Be warned. This is a harrowing read, although the abuse that’s broken the self-mutilating narrator, Leia, is revealed solely through its aftereffects on the victims.
Teen orphans Leia and Brian live with their Aunt Phoebe, who’s supervised by less-than-observant social workers. The adults appear unaware of, or are simply indifferent to, the siblings’ violent, corrosive relationship. When a man recognizes Leia at the coffee shop where she has a part-time job, she flees to the one place she feels safe: a private zoo. Hiding out there, she’s discovered by the owner’s son, Kyle, who hatches a scheme whereby she’ll share his job of feeding the animals and mucking out their cages; in return, Leia gets food and a place to sleep. As she grows attached to the animals, especially the elephants and Tina, an abused chimp awaiting transfer to a sanctuary, Leia starts to heal. Then Brian finds her. Michaels (Nobel Genes, 2010) is strong on style—lean and brutally evocative—and Leia herself is utterly convincing. But Kyle and Brian never quite come into focus; important plot points remain puzzlingly unresolved (the man who recognizes Leia seems merely a device to set the plot in motion), although the decision to omit details of the abuse itself feels right.
An edgy, flawed but powerful read. (Fiction. 12 & up)