May 8, 2013 by Heidi
Title: If You Find Me [Goodreads]
Author: Emily Murdoch [Website|Twitter]
Narrator: Tai Sammons
Standing: Stand alone
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: March 26th, 2013 by Blackstone Audio
Format: Audiobook; 7 hrs, 51 min.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Fourteen-year-old Carey and six-year-old Jenessa have lived in the woods with their mother for as long as they can remember. Now abandoned, they must fend for themselves until they’re found by Carey’s father and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of comfort. Carey desperately wants to believe in this new reality but is held back by loyalty to her mentally ill mother, who gave Carey her violin and taught her to play the music that helps her survive. And then there’s the other piece of Carey’s past that haunts her, the story of what happened to her and Jenessa that night in the woods the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken in over a year.
Every so often you come across one of those tiny books that manages to capture the very essence of life in a few short pages, weaving a story you will never forget. If You Find Me is not one of those books. Lacking a strong focus or sense of story, Emily Murdoch’s debut is scattered, shallow, and underdeveloped. Based on a very strong idea, If You Find Me needed more finesse to come to fruition–with not enough pages and too many plot points, I was left very disappointed in a book that I had very high expectations for.
I’m a lover of survival stories, and If You Find Me was a unique take on one–it wasn’t about surviving on the land so much as the culture shock that occurs once you return to society, which requires a type of survival in and of itself. Carey has spent the last 10 years hidden away in a trailer in the woods with her young sister, Janessa, and their meth addicted mother. With their mom away for several months, the girls are surprised to be tracked down by social services and sent into the home of Carey’s father–a man she was raised to believe they hid from because he beat her and her mother.
Thus we enter: Major Plot One–The first major plot that Murdoch has chosen to focus on was Carey and Nessa’s difficult assimilation into ‘normal’ society as we know it. Suddenly they have a warm and loving home with people who care about them, proper clothing, electricity, and more food than they can stomach. But of course, not everything is instantly okay. Janessa continues to struggle with her selective mutism, slowly learning to trust her new surroundings and blossoming under their care. Carey’s struggles are more evident as she must reconcile the father she sees before her with the one from her mother’s stories, attend high school for the first time, and deal with the heinous (but understandable) jealousy of her new step-sister, Delaney.
Murdoch attempts to show readers the great culture shock that would occur under such circumstances, but unfortunately her insistence on creating a sort of Cinderella story creates holes and inconsistencies. Carey is *gasp* the most beautiful girl anyone in this town has ever seen outside of a magazine. She is so smart that she tests as a 17 year old, despite being only 14 years old and having home schooled herself with whatever books her meth-head mom drug home over the years. She taught herself trigonometry. And yet, she doesn’t know basic things. She’s read books where girls attend high school, but doesn’t know what a pencil is. She’s suited to be in 11th grade history, but doesn’t know what a peace sign has to do with the 1960s (and yet, strangely enough, knows that the symbol is a peace sign). She’s well-read, including tons of classical literature, and yet speaks with horrible grammar. What are meant to be the shocking moments that open our eyes to the sheltered lives these girls have been living in fact detract from the story due to the sheer unbelievable nature of them. I could buy that Carey is both intelligent and ignorant if there had been more consistency or thought given to the balance, but I felt it was sorely lacking. I did find Carey’s reactions to the availability of conveniences her life had heretofore lacked well-drawn, and feel a focus more on these items (electricity, clothing, food, technology) would have served the story better.
Moving on to: Major Plot Two–Major plot two is what really caused me to blink in wonder at If You Find Me and question its presence as a complete novel. Throughout the story there are mentions of a THING that happened in the woods prior to the girls’ return to civilization, a thing that was largely responsible for Janessa’s choice to stop speaking. I didn’t mind the weight this point had on the story, or that it was predictable long before we found out what the THING was, what I did mind is that it was treated with the gravitas in the end that indicated that it was the only thing If You Find Me was about. It suddenly seemed as if coming to terms with the THING was the story, and that the process of acclimating to society was nothing in comparison. It just ended there. I am not usually one to complain about open endings, but the ending of If You Find Me was abrupt and unfinished, not merely up for interpretation.
Unfortunately, I found the characters flat and undeveloped. I was excited by the prospect of a good step-mother, and the dynamics between Carey and Delaney seemed fitting, but I really expected more of an internal struggle with Carey and her feelings for her father. The romance was typical, insta-love, and idealized. I did find Janessa’s part of the story to be the most believable and compelling, though again there just wasn’t the depth needed to really breathe life into any of these individuals.
I realize at this point that I have poked and prodded at If You Find Me in a way that would indicate that I hated it, when in fact, I enjoyed it as a listening experience for the most part. Tai Sammons narrated wonderfully as Carey, capturing that backwoods tone in her speech perfectly. My greatest issue with the audio came from the fact that there were time jumps and randomly placed quotations throughout the text, which became very confusing to listen to as there was nothing to displace them, no more pause than one would use between sentences.
If You Find Me isn’t a bad book, it’s just not a very good one either. It was a wonderfully unique and fresh plot that failed to be fully realized or developed. I didn’t have a problem listening to the entire book, and never once considered DNF’ing, and yet it is one I find increasingly dissatisfying the more that I think about it.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Not likely. I’m one of the few out there who seems not to love this book (though I’m not alone), so perhaps I’ll let the rest of the world go on to love Murdoch’s work.
Recommended for: Eh, honestly I think there are many books out there that tackle the similar subjects better and would recommend those instead. For instance, both Criminal and My Book of Life By Angel provide a more emotionally charged looks at a similarly gritty world.
Real life repercussions of reading this book: This is our YAckers choice for May! I feel bad because I was a big cheerleader for its vote, and I know I’m not alone in my disappointment.
Get a second opinion:
The Midnight Garden – “If You Find Me is a story full of heartbreak and hope, as well as brutal and beautiful feeling.”
Stacked – “I think this could have benefited from more, even: there were a lot of fascinating threads and a lot of subplots to explore, but they weren’t. I also felt that the ending of the book, where we finally learned the whole of what made Carey (and Nessa) who they were, left enough for real further exploration, too.”
Good Books and Good Wine – “Murdoch’s debut is very short and a quick read, but it’s not one that leaves you quickly.”
Into the Hall of Books – “This story is amazing. It’s raw and gripping and emotional and heartbreaking, but for all of that – for all of that heaviness – there is so much HOPE and GOOD and even JOY in these pages.”