If You Find Me

If You Find Me

If You Find Me was first published in 2013 and is Emily Murdoch’s debut novel. It is a stand-alone contemporary novel that centres on a teenage girl who has been reunited with her father after ten years. Since its release, the book has been nominated for numerous literary awards and was included on the infamous Blue Hen Summer Reading List alongside the likes of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and The Fault in Our Stars.

Most fourteen year old girls worry about boys and school but Casey’s first priority has always been survival. She lives in a caravan in the woods with her drug-addled Mama and seven year old sister, Jenessa. They have no electricity, heat or running water and her Mama’s only command is that they stay hidden and tell no one that they’re there. This is not easy on Casey as Mama frequently disappears for weeks at a time, leaving it up to her to ensure that Jenessa is cared for.

When two strangers appear at the camp, Casey doesn’t know whether to fight or flee. The woman is from the social services and claims that they received a letter from Mama, telling them that she could no longer look after the girls. The man is her father – the abusive man that Mama once fled from – and Casey is horrified to discover that they’re going to be left to his care.

Yet not all things are what they seem and it quickly becomes apparent that her father is one of them. As he welcomes the girls into his life, Casey begins to learn that perhaps the world isn’t as dark and cruel as Mama led her to believe. But ten years in the wilderness has hardened her and she struggles to adapt. Part of her still longs for the forest and the terrible secret that she has left there…

I’ve been debating whether or not to begin this novel with a warning but I really don’t want to. This book contains a lot of things that readers will (quite rightly) find upsetting. Drug use, child neglect, underage sex and the rape of a minor are all portrayed quite graphically in the story and it is very disturbing. I’ve seen some reviews that accuse Murdoch of being gratuitous in her depiction of Casey’s abuse but, personally, I disagree. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this novel for younger teens but I think it’s an important read for people aged fourteen and up. Let me explain why.

As a society, we seem to hold the shared belief that children should be wrapped in cotton wool. There’s such concern for corrupting or frightening them that we tend to sugar-coat harsh realities to make them more palpable. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a utopia. Terrible things happen to children every day, things so awful that we don’t want to think about them, but ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. Teenagers keep quiet about abuse because they think that they’ve done something to deserve it or people either won’t believe them or think badly about them if they talk about it. Stories like this are important because they can show teenagers that they’re not alone and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

If You Find Me is an incredibly powerful novel. It reminded me a lot of The Bone Dragon, which focused on a teenage girl battling depression after being removed from an abusive environment, only If You Find Me approached its subject matter in a far more positive light. Although the horror of Casey and Nessa’s past is always in the background, it’s a story about hope and love and family. That’s really all there is. It has no real driving plot beyond Casey’s growing need to confess her secret (and the fear that it will cause her new family to hate her). It’s just a moving and uplifting story about two horribly neglected minors finally getting their shot at a happily-ever-after.

The novel is incredibly well written and I devoured it, finding it almost impossible to put down. It’s told entirely in first person from Casey’s point of view and really captures her personality. She’s both learned and incredibly naïve. Having been hidden in the woods since she was four, most of the things that we take for granted are completely alien to her. She doesn’t know what a locker is, can’t remember what a toothbrush is for and initially mishears the word “hamburger” as “handburger” (which is logical, as it’s eaten with your hands). Just watching Casey struggle to find her place in the world made me feel thankful for everything I have.

Yet it’s also really easy to understand why Casey feels so conflicted. She’s essentially been brainwashed by an abusive parent since she was four years old and finds it very difficult to accept the fact that her Mama lied to her. While she can see that many of the things that Mama did or allowed to happen were wrong, she still clings to certain things that she repeated to her, some of which are truly vile. This burdens her with a lot of internal conflict as she really wants to settle in to a normal life with her new family but at the same time feels guilty for doing so, almost like she’s betraying her previous life. A large portion of the story is devoted to Casey gradually trying to determine what positive things she learned in the woods and using them to shape the person that she wants to be.

Of all of these, the most import is her relationship with Nessa. Their sisterly bond is quite incredible as Casey willingly steps forward to care for her sister, seeing that her bi-polar/drunk/high mother isn’t capable for doing so. Casey’s entire motivation in the story is Nessa’s happiness and it really tugs at the heart strings. Even though Casey struggles to adapt to her new life, she’s able to endure it because she can see that it’s what’s best for her sister. It really is beautiful – one of the most touching relationships I’ve ever read.

While Casey also begins to forge a number of new relationships after her rescue, the other one that I found really interesting was the gradual understanding that she reaches with her step-sister. Delaney is probably the closest thing that the novel has to an antagonist. She’s the daughter of Casey’s father’s new wife and (comparatively with Casey and Nessa) has been utterly spoiled rotten. She seems intent to make Casey’s life a misery from minute one, constantly picking on her and making her feel as unwanted as possible. While I initially loathed Delaney, I began to understand her more and more as the story progressed. As Murdoch begins to reveal snippets of what Delaney’s childhood was like, it’s clear that she’s not really a bad person and is really just venting her own feelings of neglect and confusion.

I don’t really have that much more to say about this novel so I think I’ll wrap it up here. If You Find Me is a truly a brilliant book. Although it touches on some very difficult subjects and is really hard to read in places, it’s actually a very uplifting story that shows how abuse can be overcome by the strength of a supportive family. It’s beautifully written and contains some vibrate and deeply sympathetic characters. I really couldn’t recommend it more.

If You Find Me can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

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