Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne
Hardcover, 308 pgs.
Published April 12th, 2012 by Dutton Adult
A tough, tender, debut novel, in the tradition of Dorothy Allison and Janet Fitch, Hand Me Down is the unforgettable story of a girl who travels between California and Utah in search of her true family, having never been loved best of all.
Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Reid has spent her life protecting her sister, Jaime, from their parents’ cruel mistakes. Their father, who’d rather work the system than a job, pours every dollar into his many vices, denying his daughters the shoes and clothing they need. Their mother, once a loving parent, is going through a post-post-adolescent rebellious streak and finds love with a dangerous ex-con. When she chooses starting a new family over raising her first-born girls, Elizabeth and Jaime are separated and forced to rely on the begrudging kindness of increasingly distant relatives.
A string of broken promises that begins with Liz’s mother swearing, “I would never hurt you, Liz. You’re family,” propels her between guest beds in two states searching for a safe home. All the while, Liz is burdened by her stake in a bleak pact with a deceitful adult: to tell the truth about the darkest of her circumstances will cost her the ability to shelter Jaime. As Liz spirals into the abyss of fear and shame that haunts her sleepless nights, can she break free from her bonds in time to fight for her life?
Thorne writes with a command of language that is at once affecting and enticing. Her debut is the kind of voice-driven reading experience fiction lovers crave.
I didn’t put a label on this review as young adult or adult because this is one of those books that I kind of feel shouldn’t be labeled. It’s not an easy read (though not hard either…) and wouldn’t be appropriate for many young adults. But the characters are young adults and it’s a story that I feel lots of YA would benefit from reading. Just beware, there is adult content in language used (cursing, talk of sex and crude comments). I think any child raised in foster care (for example) would maybe find a real connection with the book and understand Liz quite well. While Liz never goes in foster care she is shipped around and never really feels wanted or loved.
Okay, this book was pretty fantastic. I thought it would be one I’d only read just a little at a time because it’s somewhat heavy reading but the second day I picked it up I ended up reading the whole thing. It sucked me in and I totally and completely ached for Liz and her horrible horrible situation. I wanted to reach in and strangle the idiot adults who kept hurting her! I really just wanted to see a happy ending. And I was satisfied with the turns the book took and really liked that Liz found her strength and ability to move forward. I also felt the author threw in enough positive that it kept the book from feeling too depressing. I even giggled a time or two.
There’s a bit of jumping around in the book as Liz has memories of things and this is how we learn her full story from before. The stuff her mom went through with her drunken father and other experiences that led to the now. And while I like this technique I did find myself a little lost once or twice because I wasn’t for sure it was a memory or happening right then. But most of the time it was obvious and so it’s not really a big deal, but I guess it was a minor issue I had.
Overall this was a fabulous book that felt absolutely true and real. The thing is, there are so many kids that go through things like this. Not the same situation exactly, but I just think of all those foster kids. They live totally unstable lives and I can imagine that they feel very unloved and unwanted. I just want to scoop them all up and hold them close. I can’t do that, but I can try to be the best mom I can be to my own kids and I think this book made me realize that I am a good mom, but I want to be an even better mom.
I very highly recommend this book to adults (especially mothers) as well as teens that can handle a heavy read with adult content. Beware, it’s not all easy to read but it certainly stirs up those strong emotions.
Disclosure: I received this book for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not paid or influenced in any way.