A girl grows from 6 to 18 on a Kansas farm, methodically trying to fix her mother’s mental illness.
Explaining that “today,” on her 19th birthday, she’ll “finish a story that must be told,” Fig holds her breath, crosses her fingers and opens the tale in 1982, when she’s 6. Fig’s idyllic farm life changes on the day Mama makes them race home from an unseen terror outdoors. Mama thinks a dingo chased them, but Fig remembers a television program about that infamous Australian murder trial and begins to doubt Mama’s grip on reality. Mama has schizophrenia; Fig has an extremely high IQ, an unshakeable commitment to her mother and a reliance on magical thinking. She also suffers from OCD and a compulsion to self-injure. If she follows her calendar of self-punishing rituals, she can cure Mama. Fig’s narration epitomizes showing without telling. From wildflowers to animals to the blooming blood of her self-inflicted injuries, everything Fig describes is wildly poetic and tender. Schantz’s exquisite prose brims with nature, blood, literary references and intense emotional silence. Unfortunately, a structural letdown seriously weakens the ending: Despite the opening frame’s promise, full of gravitas, of a story that would reach Fig’s critical 19th birthday, her story stops at age 18 1/2 with no hint of what the next six months might bring.
Achingly gorgeous, with a baffling end. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 14-18)