Saturday, August 6, 2011
Many Wounds Never Heal
Susan Beth Pfeffer has proved with this book that she is a skilled author. I read her post-apocalyptic series a while ago, and it was a character driven, thoughtful, realistic series. I am surprised she can bring that same thoughtfulness into a very, very different kind of story- one about a young girl struggle with her own demons, both internal demons and very tangible demons. This story made me think about Pfeffer in a whole new light.
Willa and her mother escaped an abusive father and ended up with a very kind man named Jack who only wanted the best for them. Jack and Willa's mothers life is a financial struggle, but Val, Jack's ex-wife, pays for her daughters to do anything they want. While Willa loves her two sisters, it is very clear there is a discrepancy between what they get to do thanks to their mother, and what Willa gets to do because her mom can't afford it. Willa barely remembers her biological father, except his temper. When frantic phone calls followed by a police visit reveal her father, Budge, may have murdered his new wife and children and is on the run, Willa feels she is living in a surreal world.
Budge was spotted outside Ohio, and is on his way towards Willa and her mother. For their own safety, they are moved to a hotel. When Budge arrives at their house, he attacks a police officer and is killed on Willa's front lawn. In a few short hours, Willa's entire life is turned upside down when she learns about his brutal murders, 4 other children, 3 of which he murdered, and the life she and her mother left behind when they ran from Texas. She decides to go back to the town to pay her respects to the family she never knew she had. It is there she learns a lot about her life, both before and after she left Texas. What Willa uncovers will change everything about the way she sees the people around her.
This is a beautiful and terrifying story all in one. The characters are unconventional, and they have very real problems. I had a lot of trouble digesting Willa's mother through most of the story, especially how she literally tread on eggshells around Jack so as to "not ruin anything". But when they stopped acting like a Stepford family and faced the troubles their family was having, I understood why she was the way she was (although I still didn't really like it). The strange relationship between Willa and her sisters was also confusing at first until it became clear they were just as confused and unhappy as she was. These characters really grew and developed as the story went along.
The story is really very deep and dark. It deals with some very heavy material that might be too much for a more sensitive reader. It isn't overly bloody or gory, but the murder is particularly brutal. The toughest part is seeing Willa suffer through so much and internalize her pain so much she turns to cutting in order to make it through each day. You just want to save Willa. You want to slap her parents and make them realize how hurt she is, even before her father came back into her life. Some of the emotions are difficult to decipher at first, but I think that is what makes the story so realistic. Although the reading level of this story would make it suitable for a younger reader, its subject matter might make it better for a more mature reader. And be prepared to have some discussions with your child or student after they are finished. This isn't a book to be taken lightly, and it proves Pfeffer is quite an adaptable author.