by Anna Jarzab
Publication date: 9 October 2012 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
ISBN 10/13: 0385738366 | 9780385738361
Category: YA Realistic Fiction
Keywords: Siblings, selfishness, faith, lies
Format: Hardcover, eBook, Audible download
Caro Mitchell considers herself an only child—and she likes it that way. After all, her much older sister, Hannah, left home eight years ago, and Caro barely remembers her. So when Caro’s parents drop the bombshell news that Hannah is returning to live with them, Caro feels as if an interloper is crashing her family. To her, Hannah’s a total stranger, someone who haunts their home with her meek and withdrawn presence, and who refuses to talk about her life and why she went away. Caro can’t understand why her parents cut her sister so much slack, and why they’re not pushing for answers.
Unable to understand Hannah, Caro resorts to telling lies about her mysterious reappearance. But when those lies alienate Caro’s new boyfriend and put her on the outs with her friends and her parents, she seeks solace from an unexpected source. And when she unearths a clue about Hannah’s past—one that could save Hannah from the dark secret that possesses her—Caro begins to see her sister in a whole new light.
I've been an Anna Jarzab fan ever since reading her debut, All Unquiet Things. I found it to be literary, emotionally wrenching, complex and moving. I was especially intrigued to learn she was tackling another unusual topic: the homecoming of an estranged sister, not just any sister, but a Sister. I thought it strange subject matter from the get-go. What does an average YA realistic fiction reader care about a young woman taking holy orders?
Carolina Mitchell is a spoiled brat. Especially in the first half of the book, the author lets her have free rein--with all the tantrums and attitudes she exhibits, you would think she was about 7 or 8 years old and not a teenager. To Caro, her situation is incomprehensible: her sister Hannah, a virtual stranger now, has left the cloister she has lived in for eight years. She doesn't even remember how deeply she used to worship the golden girl Hannah was before, and in the face of this gloomy, withered sibling, Caro clings selfishly to all that she can hold.
I worried a little bit that the religious themes would be uncomfortable--they're not what I seek to read normally--but the author handles them with sensitivity and grace. One of my favorite characters was Father Bob, who relates to Caro in unexpected ways; he listens instead of berates and is a refreshingly positive portrayal of an authority figure in a YA novel.
I thought the elder Mitchells were very real, though some of Caro's friends are too flat to care about in any palpable way. I liked Pawel and the relationship that springs up between him and Caro, and I liked even more the fact that the romance takes a backseat to the Mitchell family's dynamics. I found the interactions between Caro, Hannah, and their mom and dad to be very touching.
The "mystery" of Hannah's vocation--the dark secret that she has to marry God to escape--is quite predictable, but the author's treatment of it from several angles renders its complexity as it boils down to the unavoidable core of Hannah's malaise. Jarzab skillfully peels away the onion skin layers of conflict, self-blame, and tragedy; I think it would take quite a cold reader to be able to look away, especially once Caro begins to grow into her role and take charge of the situation.
A lot of readers might find Caro's self-centeredness too off-putting to finish the book, but those readers would be missing the best part--a real transformation from holy terror, not into an angel, but into something more human.
I can't wait to see what Anna Jarzab will tackle next.
*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.
Find out more about the author at www.annajarzab.com, on Facebook, and follow @ajarzab on Twitter.