What a heart wrenching, yet inspiring, read this was! I listened to the audio book and couldn't tear myself away. It's been a long time since I found myself so immersed in a story, or since I have read a story so incredibly tragic and yet, at the same time so hopeful.
The main character is Carey, who believes she is 15 years old. She suffers abuse and neglect at the hands of her meth addicted, mentally ill mother who kidnapped her away from her father when she was five. She has been hidden away in the Obed Wild and Scenic National Park in Tennessee, along with a six year old half sister. Janessa, the younger sister, refuses to speak; she hasn't talked in a year. Their mother disappears for weeks at a time, leaving the girls alone in the stripped out camper in the woods of Tennessee. They have no electricity, no running water, no heat during the long cold winters. Carey has taught herself to hunt rabbits and birds, supplementing their meager diet of primarily canned beans. Yet despite the horrendous circumstances she is living in, she maintains what vestiges of civilization she can. She homeschools both herself and her younger sister with books her mother occasionally brings to them. She insists on cleanliness and routine. And she cares for her sister as a loving parent would, trying her very best to protect Janessa from the evils that befall them as a result of their mother's lifestyle. Then one day, after her mother has been gone longer than ever before and their food stores are just about gone, a social worker and her father show up to take her home. Returning to what most people consider a normal life after nine years of just trying to survive alone in the woods presents its own set of major obstacles, both physical and emotional. Carey must sort out the truth from the lies her mother told her. And she must come to terms with the girl she was and the girl she is now becoming.
There were a few problems that kept me from giving this 5 stars. One issue I had was that at times I found the flashbacks confusing. I don't know if in the written book the flashbacks and current events were easier to distinguish between, but in listening to the audio version (which was very well done, I thought) there were a few times that I had to rewind because I thought I missed something, then realized I was listening to a flashback. That's always distracting, but especially when your heart is being wrenched from your chest. (Yes, it is that emotional at times!) There were also a few times that I questioned the likelihood of something that happened. For example, the fact that the two girls spent their first night away from the woods in a motel room alone with a social worker. Knowing the care and protections that must be taken when working with children, that just didn't ring true. But ultimately, it didn't really matter. The story is so beautifully written and packs such an emotional punch, such details seem ridiculously trivial.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes contemporary, realistic fiction books dealing with serious issues.