Published: March 26, 2013.
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin.
Source: Received a finished copy from the publisher for review. Thank you, St. Martin's!
There are some things you can’t leave behind…A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.
Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.
If You Find Me is a heart-wrenching story about the bonds between sisters and between family, and one that shows how family is not all about who you're related to by blood. While it isn't a book that I completely fell in love with, it is one that I am impressed by and appreciate because it's a compelling and dark but ultimately hopeful read and is wonderfully well written.
I really loved reading about these characters Murdoch has created and watching them interact, and yet there were times I wished that the characters and their relationships with one another had been explored in more depth. Carey I felt was expressed very well as a character, and I very much enjoyed seeing her relationship with her new step-mother, Melissa, and step-sister, Delaney, evolve. The struggle to build these relationships as well as both their tensions and their bright spots felt very realistic and gave them a real weight. However, I wanted more from younger sister Jenessa as a character. Because she does not speak due to a traumatic incident, nearly everything about her is communicated through Carey. What she wants and needs, what she is used to, a lot of what her body language means, all told by Carey. It made for an interesting dynamic between the two -- their relationship was so strong and a very emotional aspect of the book -- and it was very effective in showing the lengths of Nessa's trauma, but I still wish she could have been developed on her own a bit more.
If You Find Me is a rather dark book that holds some serious secrets. There were parts of the plot that felt predictable and I felt like I knew where the story was headed for a while, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it anyway. I feel like I still felt all the emotions at the reveals of the secrets even if I wasn't totally taken aback by them, and that's what I truly wanted. Carey and Nessa's trauma is slowly unraveled as the story goes on, interwoven with their attempts to fit into a new life with a new family, and I found this was done strongly. Murdoch managed to keep the mystery there and the curiosity high while bringing me to care deeply about these sisters. It is definitely a book that pulled me in and got me very invested in these two sisters and what happens to them. While it isn't a fast-paced book, it still has good pacing to allow development to happen in a rather short number of pages.
Murdoch's prose is wonderful. It was clearly influenced by the snippets of poetry that are scattered throughout the narrative, so it has that figurative and visual language quality that makes it interesting and beautiful. It also fits so well with the character she has created in Carey. It feels very authentic coming from this lost and confused but incredibly mature and self-sufficient young woman and it only serves to make her character stronger. The writing also creates an excellent atmosphere for the story and Murdoch is strong at giving scenes a lightness when they deserve them and weight when it matters most. She is already excellent at this balance and in that, this is a strong debut.
All in all, If You Find Me is, from a writing perspective, a beautiful and lyrical novel and, from a story perspective, both gripping and hopeful. While I wish it had been a little longer so to develop some of the characters and relationships a bit more, it is still a very strong, authentic, and emotionally powerful book.