Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Hand Me Down," by Melanie Thorne

Melanie Thorne's novel "Hand Me Down" (Dutton, 2012) is heartrending. It tells the story of Liz, a young teenager who has lived a most unstable and disturbing life because of the unreliable and dangerous adults who have failed and are still failing her. Her father is alcoholic and out of control, her stepfather is a creepy sex offender, and her mother has chosen that stepfather over her daughters. Both her father and mother do seem to love her, and her mother used to do everything she could to protect her daughters, but now is in the thrall of her horrible husband. Liz's main concern in life is protecting her younger sister, Jaime. Liz is smart, resourceful, brave, and strong, but she is always on guard, always worrying, always figuring out what she has to do to survive and to protect Jaime; living like that is a terrible strain on her, something no young person should have to endure. The only notes of hope in this story are Liz's strength, her love for her sister, and the caring aunts who take her and Jaime in when their parents fail them. Both Liz and Jaime show an amazing resilience despite their terrible circumstances and the uncertainty and scariness of their lives. Normally I would find a novel like this one too sad to keep reading, but Liz's voice (as the narrator as well as main character) is so strong and real and compelling, and the author's control of her material so sure, that I kept reading and reading. In fact, last night I had intended to grade papers but, instead, sat on the couch with this book and, despite my admonitions to myself after each chapter that I must close the book and stop, kept on reading until I finished the novel.

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