Being the emotional reader that I am, I knew that I was headed for good things when I started to tear up early into the story. Callie is a seventeen-year-old girl who was abducted by her mother when she was only five. She knows this, yet she stays with her mother because she was made to believe that her father didn't love and want her. They spend their lives constantly on the run, squatting in model homes, abandoned houses and overstaying in cheap motels. During an unplanned move in the middle of the night, they are caught and Callie's mom is arrested. Callie is then returned to her father and must now learn how to live with a new family while coming to terms with the consequences of her mother's actions.
What was especially heartbreaking for me was Callie's care for her mother even when she knew of the truth and saw the life that was stolen from her. She worried about her all the time and even went to great lengths to protect her.
Life with her is wonderful and terrible, but at least I know how to be her daughter.
For the longest time, she longed to plant her roots somewhere, but now that she's returned to her hometown, she struggles to be part of this new life. She doesn't recognize the place and doesn't remember her relatives. Most of all, she doesn't know how to be a "normal" girl. She continually breaks rules that her father sets for her and hurts the people who reach out to her. Instead, she gravitates towards Alex, the man-boy who is all kinds of wrong for her. A lot of her decisions frustrated me, yet I couldn't bring myself to hate her, especially since I know that it's not that easy to undo the lifetime of conditioning that she had.
I can pack a suitcase in less than five minutes, I can wash my hair in a rest-stop sink, and I know all the words to all the songs on Pearl Jam's first album, but my mother has never taught me any practical life skills.
I hated Callie's mother for being negligent and irresponsible with her, and I somehow feel cheated that she turned out to have a mental illness that somehow conveniently explained her behaviour. One thing that bothered me a lot was how Callie wasn't made to see a psychologist or social worker upon her return. Given her mother's history I would think that that would be the first step before anything else. I also didn't approve of the sudden relationship between Callie and Alex. What's funny is that I started the book berating Callie for hooking up with him so fast when she should be focusing on other things at the time, but somewhere along the middle I fell for Alex's character when he turned out to have more depth than what I initially thought. By the end of the book I was rooting for his own personal story and wanted to see him succeed and grow outside of Tarpon Springs.
What I loved best was how this book succeeded in touching me with its story and the emotions that it made me feel. I liked how Callie's father was patient and loving towards her even when she messed up multiple times. And even though I wanted her to report Frank and get help for being sexually molested I also appreciated that Alex didn't force her to after finding out. I believe he genuinely cared for her and respected her. I also loved how Callie made more effort to build a relationship with her family towards the end. I easily connected with her character and identified with her conflicted feelings for her mother and her new surroundings.
Despite my few issues I still liked this book a lot. I enjoyed imagining Tarpon Springs and reading about the Greek-American community - something new to me as a reader. My rating might have to do with reading it so soon after Something Like Normal, which is a personal favourite. But still, I found this book very engaging and heartwarming. I like how Ms. Doller manages to tackle personally traumatic events without making them all-consuming to the character. And what I loved, with SLN and this, is how the characters still make mistakes even while on the path of redemption. It feels real. I sometimes found that the prose was not "tight" but I enjoy simple, honest writing, and for me, this had that.