Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: My Absolute Darling

Summary: Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer. -- Riverhead

A few months ago, I did a recap of this year's BEA's Editor's Buzz Panel. One of the books that piqued my interest was MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent. When this book was presented, I just knew it was a book that I had to read. It sounded like an amazing coming-of-age story... and I do love those; however, it also sounded like a book that was very intense. What I didn't grasp until I picked up this book was just how intense it was!

MY ABSOLUTE DARLING tells the story of fourteen year old Turtle Alveston. Turtle lives along the norther California coast with her father, and she's pretty much left to her own, free to roam with a gun to protect herself. She attends middle school but she doesn't really have any friends -- mainly because she doesn't want anyone to get close to her and know what's going on ever since her mother died. Her father Martin is a creep... and I mean that in the very worst possible way.

One day Turtle meets Jacob, a high school boy who is funny and has a "normal" life. He sees Turtle for the special person she is, and suddenly Turtle's life takes on a new meaning. She begins to see that there is hope in her life and that she might be able to get away from Martin. However, Martin has a very different opinion of Turtle's new friend and the change he sees in his daughter.

As Turtle begins to flex her wings, she faces challenges that most adults could never even begin to imagine. However, Turtle uses her both the physical and mental survival skills that she's developed through the years to become her own person.

Holy moly! I hardly know where to start when sharing my thoughts about MY ABSOLUTE DARLING. I struggle to find the right words to describe this reading experience. Harrowing, gut-wrenching, painful, and nauseating all immediately come to mind. This book begins with an unbelievably difficult-to-read scene that left me reeling and not quite certain that this book was for me. However, I stuck with it (mainly out of curiosity and an interest in Turtle), and I'm certainly glad I did. This book was pretty incredible!

There is a lot to discuss about this novel, and I fear I will ramble in this review. The writing is both beautiful and disturbing, and fans of literary fiction will love this author's detailed descriptions of Turtle's world. In fact, it's hard to believe that this is Mr. Tallent's first novel. (I can't wait to see what he has in store for his fans next... and make no mistake, Mr. Tallent already has a fan base!) He definitely knows how to tell a story, but the way he evokes feelings in his readers is truly something special.

In addition, the author created one of the most memorable characters that I've encountered in recent years. Turtle is an incredible girl. First and foremost, she's a survivor. After understanding what she was dealing with at home, I find it hard to believe that she could even relate to another human being. She actually broke my heart... over and over again, and I found it truly incredible that she was able to hang onto slivers of hope and move forward. So even though this novel was terribly sad, it was also a beautiful story about strength and resilience and hope.

I do think MY ABSOLUTE DARLING would make a wonderful book club pick; however, I know a few in my club that probably wouldn't be able to read past the first chapter. There are truly so many things to talk about -- both horrific and uplifting -- about Martin, Turtle, and Jacob. However, there are also some universal themes about human nature that are worthy of discussion. including abuse, survival, friendship, second chances, and healing.

All in all, I highly recommend MY ABSOLUTE DARLING for fans of literary fiction and especially coming-of-age novels. It's a difficult read but well worth it!

I received a copy of this book at the year's BEA.


bermudaonion said...

Hm, I have this book in print and audio and I think I should probably stick with the print version - I can handle intense scenes better in print.

Mystica said...

Sounds a little too intense for me. I enjoyed the review and would like to see what others think of it too.

The Book Sage said...

I'm seeing this one around. Looks like a good one.