I almost skipped this one. The cover is pretty and evocative, and the title on the steamy window gives it a nice trompe l'oeil depth. But, lovely as it is, the artwork suggests that the book itself will be at best, extremely sad, and at worst, hideously angsty.
Read Bookshelves of Doom on the Thief Errant series.
Then there’s the premise, which totally supports that assumption. A story about an abused woman whose one joy in life—her baby—is stolen? About a young girl whose mother drags her from town to town, never settling or engaging with other people because they’re too scared, always running from something that her mother calls the No Good? Well, that’s Sadness Unchained, right there.
But, then I heard Good Things about You Are My Only. So I decided to give it a go. After all, it’s by Beth Kephart, and her writing is not only consistently strong but consistently original. She shows me things that I wouldn’t notice without her, makes everyday actions into things of beauty by describing them in new ways. Sometimes, that make-you-blink description appears in simple phrases like “...she undressed the hangers...” to describe a woman packing, while at others, it’s simply in the way Kephart strings her narrator’s thoughts together:
Perfection. Mother uses the word, but nothing ever is; it’s a false-hope word, an illusion. It’s sitting inside Joey’s house like I have a right to be there, like I won’t be erased from this neighborhood if Mother figures her way to the truth.
In the past, while I’ve enjoyed what she’s done with words, I haven’t always felt that her capital-L Literary style has fully meshed with her plotting and characters. In You Are My Only, though, everything comes together and it all feels right. For one thing, the Literary-ness is tempered by the very matter-of-fact dialogue:
“That her? That your mother?” I nod but don’t answer, let Joey look me up and down. “I guess your family isn’t big on look-alikes,” he says.
For another, it never feels like Kephart’s showboating—being Literary purely for the sake of being Literary—because according to the older of the two narrators, their way of seeing the world is in the blood:
My way of smelling, it runs in the family. My way of seeing, too, my way of explaining: it was Mama’s before mine, and it now belongs to Baby.
But what you really want to know is whether or not it’s terrifically depressing, right?
Well. It’s sad, no question. But I was surprised to find that while it starts sad—like, really, really sad—the storyline itself is more about Emmy and Sophie finding their separate ways toward freedom rather than simply enduring imprisonment. So, yes, it’s the story of a tragedy with long-reaching arms. But it’s also the story of two women climbing out of and away from that tragedy, so there’s a whole lot of hope in there with the sadness.
Long story short?
I’m glad that I decided to read it.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.