March 08, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: FINDING HOPE by Colleen Nelson

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Every fingernail scrapes
On shut doors,
Ripping off.
At least the blood
can escape.

- from the ARC

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Hope is her mother's last chance for vicariously getting out of the go-nowhere, nothing town of Lumsville. Hope's mom should have left after graduation, but she'd already met her first husband. The next thing she knew, she was five years out of high school, the widowed mother of a three-year-old, and stuck fast in a town of meth and hopelessness, going nowhere. Hope knows her mother's dream is for Hope to get out, and for Hope to have the opportunities she didn't, so Hope is going to Ravenhurst, a girl's boarding school, in hopes of interrupting the cycle of hopelessness that's already taken root within them.

Hope isn't sure what she hopes for, really. A place to belong, where she isn't in the shadows of her older brother, isn't the awkward one who doesn't party, doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't want any part of that. Eric was the hockey-star, their mother's first dream for someone getting out of Lumsville, but something derailed him, and first pot, then meth pulled him down into a deep, dark, bottomless pit. Hope takes care of him as best she can, giving him most of her babysitting money, leaving food, warm clothes, pictures in the stump where they used to build forts. She writes poems expressing the rage and sorrow and the silences that have fallen in her family, at the inexplicable loss of the brother who was once a rising star. Hope's finding her feet at Ravenhurst, has found a few edgy, popular girls to hang with, and, with her new boyfriend, Devon, from the neighboring school making things fun, she feels she's finally given herself a new start where things can be good. But, the truth is that wherever you go, there you are, and Hope soon finds herself in a bigger mess than before. Hope's mother can take Hope out of Lumsville, but is it possible to take Lumsville out of Hope?

Observations: This book was painful to read, in myriad ways. The short chapters, told in alternating voices, the tersely minimalist blank verse of Hope's poetry, and the bleakness of the situation create a sort of alternate universe of silence and white spaces -- this is a novel of what isn't said. Eric's painful self-recrimination is a slow horror in swinging imbalance with his manic sketchiness. The reader's horrifying sense of revelation tears away at them as they are handed sharp shards of truth, a sliver at a time, truths which lodge in the heart and make it bleed. At first I resented hearing Eric's voice in the novel, I'll admit. He constantly railed against the people who wouldn't give him the means to destroy himself, and it was apparent that he was wearing his sister out. And then I wanted him to stop railing against himself and make better choices - I wanted to shake him. I appreciate that the narrative doesn't supply the Eric character with an easy fix, because while he was destroyed by someone else, the hole he dug when he hit rock bottom was of his own making. The author doesn't make a big "just say no" statement, which is helpful and realistic, but neither does she let him off the hook.

Hope's struggles and mistakes are immersive and deeply painful as well. A lonely girl, she seems almost too young to leave home, isolated in Lumsville and trusting too easily in her new school, and too soon. She enables others in their behavior, and though she knows so much about these issues, in some ways, she willfully blinds herself. Some readers may find her naïveté frustrating, but this is less an issue of Hope's characterization and more how well known the "Innocents vs. Mean Girls" trope has come to be. Additionally, I had deeper questions about Hope I wanted answers to, such as how she felt about being the holder of her mother's vicarious hopes? Did she feel she had worth to anyone as just... Hope: not her mother's vicarious sojourner, not her brother's next hit, but just Hope? I wished that there had been one scene where she spoke one-on-one with her father, as well, as he was largely invisible except as characterized by his refusal to further enable Eric.

We all saw Hope's downfall from a mile away, as the obvious pitfall was hard to miss. The novel's antagonist is over the top, and the "whys" of this are never answered. Her removal solves one of Hope's immediate issues, but the others -- the total lack of friends, the loneliness -- should still have existed at Ravenhurst; the solution there, and with Eric as well, felt facile. The choppy, sketchy style of the book leaves us somewhat only with what we can see, so going deeper with the characters wasn't as easy. We are left to imagine a great deal, and this is what is useful; readers will ask themselves these types of questions, and perhaps come away with some deeper understanding of how they would handle this.

Conclusion: Drugs, alcohol, and sex: they're all in this novel, realistically and darkly portrayed, and there are a lot of f-bombs dropped, so I'd suggest this book for readers who haven't been sheltered, and aren't easily shocked. With somewhat of a rushed last chapter, which provides resolution without easy answers, this is very good book showing the difficulties and struggles of a family trying to survive a meth-addicted member. This novel will resonate in reader's minds and be a good jumping off point for discussions.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Dundurn Publishing. After April 12th, you can find FINDING HOPE by Colleen Nelson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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