A teenage abuse victim finds healing and purpose in this debut YA novel.
Sam, age 15, is running away from Him, the father she won’t name—the parent who subjected her to years of emotional and physical abuse. The only adult love she’s ever known came from two teachers in junior high. Aside from them, her few happy memories are of Nova, her younger sister, and Dodger, a boy she met in residential care. Sam hasn’t seen Nova for years—not since their mother left and took one sister but not the other. Sam and Dodger have planned to meet at Lake Isabel on the first day of spring, but first she has to break free from the specter of Him. It is while she is fleeing through the forest that she comes upon a magical house built high up in and around the trees. Here she meets Theory, a kindly old woman who takes her in and helps Sam exorcise her demons. For the first time in her life, Sam feels safe. But spring is approaching and, with it, Dodger and two other young runaways. Can Sam take her newfound peace with her when she ventures back into the world? Mendivel portrays Sam as funny, intelligent, imaginative, and intensely vulnerable, her long conversations with Theory revealing a depth of understanding but also surging feelings of anger and doubt. It is an honest depiction, and the author neither shies away from the abuse Sam suffered nor describes it too graphically. The focus instead is on Sam’s state of mind, the turmoil of which is cleverly contrasted with the peace and order she comes to find in the forest. Sam is damaged—this is in no way presented as a judgment—and the first half of the narrative tips more toward therapy than story. With Dodger’s arrival, however, the balance is restored and Sam’s tale not only takes shape, but also shows itself to hold a bearing beyond her need to overcome her past. Sufferers young and old should take heart, but most readers would surely benefit from some exposure to Theory’s wisdom and Sam’s inner strength and insights.
A tale that sincerely and effectively advocates human connection and empathy in dealing with trauma.