Monday, 29 April 2013

If You Find Me - M's review

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

If You Find Me is a chilling but beautifully written story about two sisters, Carey and Jenessa, who have been brought up in a camper van in some rural Tennessee woods. They don’t know much about life anywhere else and they have hardly met any people in that time. They are backwoods. Now, they are being moved and must negotiate a potentially dangerous situation as well as learn to adapt and deal with their past and their futures. But from the first few pages, you know there is something else, something much bigger going on. If You Find Me is a dark story with a tone to match as it tells of child abuse and more. A compelling and challenging read.

UK cover If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
The novel is told by Carey who is fifteen. She interweaves her current voice, her memories and woods voice, and her before-the-woods voice (yeah, can you find her in all of that and can she find herself?). This gives the reader clues about what happened in the woods, and before that time.  A bigger picture (as well as reader suspense) builds up slowly but, this novel is not a thriller. It doesn’t have that fast adrenalin pumping feel that thrillers tend to have. It’s much more dramatic and slower.  This doesn’t mean it’s a slow read. Quite the opposite. It’s a quick and compelling read. Wonderfully, it doesn’t leave you hanging until the end. Even though you might be able to fill in most of the details of Carey’s story before the end (some readers might not), you’re still hungering to find out all the nitty gritty bits. And the end, well it’s definitely thought-provoking. It ties the story up well but leaves just enough for you to wonder – and debate with other readers - about the reality (and ethics) of what happens next (or should or could).

There are two clear parts to the plot. The main plot is about Carey and Jenessa fitting into a new ‘civilised’ life. This new life has its own problems and a dangerous undercurrent runs through it. However, this plot also introduces the sorts of storyline and issues that appear in many teen novels – being put into new environments but feeling like you don’t fit. This part of the novel is warm and almost sugary, which is quite a contrast to the sub-plot which explores the terrible past. The story of the past (and possible future) is very sinister and full of trauma. Emily Murdoch deals with it sensitively but she doesn’t hold back much on detail either. Really, it’s all one plot but the novel’s structure shifts backwards and forwards in time so that it seems like two plots.

What surprised me is how much it reminded me of Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley, which is most definitely an adult novel. Both novels are dealing with controversial issues and explore a similar situation: two sisters have been deliberately secluded from the rest of the world. For me, this is the most interesting aspect in both novels. The problems and delights that people who have been abused deal with while experiencing social reintegration and self acceptance is a familiar theme. However, combining it with characters who are almost foreigners in the country that they have been living in is fascinating. It’s almost like a refugee story.

Overall, this felt like an adult novel. The themes, the details of implied and actual sexual abuse, the writing style and plot structure (multiple flipping from past to present within scenes), create that sense. The middle section of the book, however, introduces plot elements of school, making friends and dealing with being an outsider. My least favourite parts of the novel are introduced here (maybe I'm too old!). I’m not sure if I believe the whole story that surrounds Ryan. I also never really warmed to Delaney but that might have been the whole point about what her character has gone through too (Carey and Jenessa aren’t the only ones who’ve been affected by their past).

I really enjoyed If You Find Me and would recommend it to older teens. If You Find Me is dark and explicit but it is also hopeful and explores justice as a concept. Other novels suitable for young adult readers that explore questions of justice in a similar vein are Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield (forthcoming July 2013).

Publication details: 2 May 2013, Indigo, London, paperback
This copy: uncorrected proof received for review from the publisher


  1. I've only read really wonderful things about this book. I'm really looking forward to it!

    1. It is very good. You'll see when you read just the first two pages. It has a strong and interesting voice and, overall, it's quite different. Murdoch draws in Tennyson and Winnie the Pooh too! I think you'll love it. :)


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