Seffra Morgan loves her glamorous, charismatic, and fun mother, Linda, despite the fact that she’s a criminally negligent, violently abusive addict, sometimes leaving Seffra alone for days without food. Hunger is one of the most poignant themes of the book, haunting Seffra as she thinks, “The chance of having to sleep on a dirty hotel room floor was totally worth my mom’s attention and some good food.” After Linda permanently leaves Seffra on her own, the 12-year-old begins making desperate choices. After she survives a horrendous attack, she ends up in Castlerock, a residential treatment center that readers soon realize houses only the most traumatized and debilitated children. Mitchell articulates the details of child welfare services very well, depicting a realistic, well-meaning system of teachers, social workers, nurses, and law enforcement officials. The Castlerock treatment center offers the author an opportunity to introduce other children into the narrative, providing context for Seffra’s behavior and emphasizing the scope of child abuse. However, the novel’s biggest accomplishment is how it assumes Seffra’s point of view as she internalizes her trauma. She’s an exceptionally complex character who seeks her mother’s love while simultaneously expressing destructive anger. The two impulses are entwined at one point when she thinks, “My anger pushed away for a few moments and I felt the rush of my mother’s smell, and how much I loved her and I was sad with need and longing.” Mitchell subtly allows the character to develop and readers’ empathy will grow as they accompany her out of childhood and into adolescence.
A heartbreaking story that gives voice to often overlooked children.