Wednesday, February 2, 2022

What I Carry by Jennifer Longo

It's a rare pleasure to find a book that tackles gritty issues and still manages to be an enjoyable read. Jennifer Longo excels at creating complex protagonists who are their own worst antagonists. Longo's last book, Up to this Point, was one of my favorite young adult novels of 2016, but What I Carry is even better. Her latest young adult novel is dedicated to her daughter, who was born into foster care and had "never read a book about a life she recognized." The author listened to her and to foster families to create a fictional story that is educational but never didactic.

Muir was born addicted to the drugs her mother was using and then shuffled through a series of foster homes. At nearly eighteen, Muir is finally on the brink of aging out of foster care but with freedom comes financial insecurity and the loss of her support network. For her final placement, this ultra urban girl has been extirpated from her beloved Seattle and replanted on a remote island. With only a retired foster mother and no foster siblings for company, Muir is terrified by silence and empty space. She's used to living out of a suitcase in temporary quarters and refuses to unpack her few belongings. At school she strives to get by without being noticed as usual, but that's not possible in such a small town.

It was a joy to watch Muir connect with nature and make emotional attachments but equally painful to see how she struggles to accept anything given to her, be it a fresh baked scone or genuine love. My only criticism was the mean girls at school felt like cardboard cutouts, standing in sharp contrast to the other well developed characters, young and old. I have never felt more invested in a character, wanting Muir to succeed. If I had to summarize this quiet book in one word it would be hope.

My coastal town in Maine got 18 inches of snow in the blizzard. Great skiing before the rain!

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@Barrie Summy


Phyllis Wheeler said...

This sounds like a good book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Lucy said...

A few years ago I reviewed a book centered on foster care and adoption and your review reminded me of it. I really like that you say your one word description would be hope. Sounds like a good book. Thanks for reviewing.

Powell River Books said...

My hometown in Powell River is getting snow today, but I'm here in southern Arizona getting buffeted by wind in sunny warm temps. Guess it isn't fair. It's good to have books for young readers with characters that match their real life situation. - Margy

Barrie said...

What a wonderful thing for the author to do...write a book where her daughter would recognize herself. Someone I know is writing a YA now w/ a protagonist who just aged out of the foster system. I'll point her in the direction of What I Carry. I enjoyed your review and your photo of snow! Thanks!

Linda McLaughlin said...

Great review, Sarah. Sounds like an excellent book.

Jenn Jilks said...

This sounds like a great idea. I've taught so many kids who were in care. It's a tough life. Aging out is a real issue, as well.

thecuecard said...

It sounds like I would be rooting hard for Muir too -- in this book. It has a very fetching cover too. I hope the ending is on the positive side. The snowy photo in Maine is beautiful. Did it really rain?! Argh. I hope you get back skiing again before the end of winter. We've had some warm conditions as well which is not helping our ski areas either. Bahh.