One of the more iconic teen books of the past twenty years is THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON. The basic premise is that average everyday teen discovers her whole life is a lie when she recognizes her face on the "Have you seen this missing child" ad on the side of a cafeteria milk carton. It's pretty much everything Harry Potter but without the wicked cool wizarding world. (Okay, it's actually nothing like Harry Potter other than the whole "your life is not what you thought it was" angle but you get the idea.) I've been thinking about what happened to Janie in that book a lot lately as I just finished Beth Kephart's YOU ARE MY ONLY which has a similar basic storyline (girl kidnapped young and as a teen tries to put together the clues to discover the truth about her life) but with a lot of other twists and turns. While it is certainly as beautifully written as all of Kephart's books (she truly has an elegant way with words), it is the plot that caught my attention this time. YOU ARE MY ONLY has legs, big time, and I think if its teen audience finds it they are going to embrace it just as much as the Caroline Cooney classic.
So, basic rundown is that twenty year old Emmy leaves her baby in the front yard swing for a couple of minutes and when she comes back outside the infant is gone. Emmy, who has no family of her own and is trapped in an abusive relationship with her high school boyfriend (who was not thrilled to pieces about the baby in the first place), quickly falls apart and in the midst of a nervous breakdown finds herself not saved by her spouse but rather committed to a state asylum. Her story, told in alternating chapters, is all about not only losing a child but losing all control of you life. As this is basically my personal nightmare (thank you Charlotte Perkins Gilman), I found Emmy's story particularly compelling and kept the pages turning to make sure she somehow, someway got the heck out of there.
The whole asylum thing really is my nightmare.
The second storyline takes place in the future as fourteen year old Sophie who has been homeschooled all her life and shuffled from town to town the minute someone gets too curious, starts to think that just maybe her obsessive controlling "mother" isn't making the right decisions. She finds courage to ask questions and take chances after being befriended by the boy next door (cute boy!) and his aunts, all of whom fall hard for Sophie and show her what a normal loving (not paranoid) family looks like. Sophie races against the clock to find out what her "mother" has been hiding, while every other chapter shows Emmy hoping against hope that one day she will find her missing daughter. The tension builds in both narratives as you get caught up in all the hoping and looking and waiting and will Sophie get caught???
I saw a lot of teen appeal in YOU ARE MY ONLY as Beth gives readers not just one girl trying to break free but two and honestly I'm not sure which character I found more appealing. There is also a lot more here, like Willa Cather and Johannes Kepler and kite flying and one very cool dog (who does not die!) and while the tension is fairly relentless it is not gratuitous or violent or, for lack of a better word, lame. This is just the story of two girls each trying to figure out who they are and who they should be and clinging every second to the lives they want to have. It's a book about being strong enough to insist on the truth, and never giving up no matter how hard life gets.
It's pretty much the best kind of power trip you can want for a teenage girl to read.
Full review to follow in the October column but if you're a reviewer on the fence I strongly urge you to give this one a chance - you won't be disappointed. (And teen librarians take note because this is one you need to order!)