I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong. As we made our way from Virginia to California, returning to the places where she’d lived as a child in foster care and as a teenager on the run, repaying debts and keeping promises, I learned who she was in her life-before-me and the secrets she had kept even from herself. But when life on the road began to feel normal I couldn’t forget the home we’d left behind, couldn’t deny that, just like my mother, I too had unfinished business.
When Alex is bundled into the car in the middle of the night, it’s without warning – or so she feels. Maybe, though, it had been coming a while. Her parent argued – loud and often – and her mother had a tendency to disappear for days on end, only to the return without explanation. So, when they set off together this time, Alex is confused but also a little excited, figuring out that – at last – she will get to understand where her mother goes and what she does when she’s gone.
I’m not sure I ever go the answer to that but, if what the two did over the course of two-ish years on the road, hiding from their father, it was basically live out of a car or cheap motels and look up people they once new. If I sound a bit dismissive, I’m sorry but – after 300 or so pages it is how I felt.
I know in between there were some pretty interesting episodes (bit of a spoiler here but helping a young girl escape her religious family, staring an abusive ex-boyfriend down in the street and fulfilling long-ago made promises to now dead friends). I really enjoyed these, found the people I met here interesting and different and myself fully involved. But in between there was a lot of time on the road, a lot of eating gas station snacks and a lot of Ma smoking and not telling Alex much.
Somewhere in here was a story about Alex’s sexuality – or lack of it – and they didn’t want to be known by a gender and I wish this has been more front and centre and really explored. This book is about journey’s – Ma’s journey to fulfil promises and Alex’s to understand Ma but it’s also his/her journey to understand themselves…I just didn’t think this was done as well as it could have been. At the risk of sounding cynical it felt like a plotting device rather than a real part of the character and ths story.
All put together, for me, it felt messy. I wanted so much more and I feel like Sara Taylor can write well enough to deliver that, she was maybe just trying to cover too much ground and say too many things.
It wasn’t all bad (though I realise reading back that my frustration is coming through) – like I said the things that happened when they arrived at each destination were absorbing and Taylor’s writing and characterisation at these points drew me in. And the idea was one I loved, one I wanted to like more than I eventually did. It’s a shame as I started with such high hopes but in the end, this was a book I liked a little not a lot.
Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.