Beautifully written in an almost stream-of-consciousness mode, AUGUSTA, GONE will break your heart with its simple horrors and leave you pondering how a mother/daughter relationship could reach such a point of no return. There is no question that Martha Tod Dudman's daughter Augusta has serious problems --- she stays out all night, drops out of school, runs away from home, uses drugs, and vehemently hates her mother. The real question becomes what can Dudman do to save her. How can a divorced mother of two save her own daughter from becoming a statistic? The answer as Dudman sees it is very simple --- never give up.
The book jumps back and forth between the present chaos and a time when things weren't so rocky. In good times, Dudman remembers lying in bed with her children and reading with them, summer beach trips, and one-on-one time with each of her children. Then of course there is the divorce, so stunning in the fact that Dudman recalls the exact moment she knew it was going to happen. And like all divorces, the family changes in big ways. Dudman, now alone and fully in charge, is granted custody of four-year-old Augusta and three-year-old Jack. With time, Dudman becomes a very successful divorced woman trying to balance the responsibilities of work and home by herself.
As teenagers, both Jack and Augusta are wild. They become the kinds of kids that other parents warn their own kids not to hang out with. But while Jack seems to experience the more standard deviant behavior, Augusta goes full throttle. To Dudman, it seems that she changes overnight into a stranger. Soon Augusta runs away, time and time again, pushing Martha to the brink of a breakdown. Sometimes she calls, sometimes she even returns home, but never for long and never to stay. Dudman grapples with herself, on the one hand wanting to move heaven and earth to rescue Augusta, and on the other hand feeling isolated and helpless. As this cycle continues Dudman continually asks herself why. Did she fail as a mother? Is this just normal teenage behavior? Is she crazy? Is Augusta crazy?
As Augusta's wrath continues, Dudman begins to look for an alternative. Ashamed at the thought of putting her daughter into a program for teenagers needing more discipline and guidance, Dudman puts it off for as long as possible. But it soon becomes clear that there is no other way to stop Augusta before she hits rock bottom or dies. Things do not get better for Augusta. Each time the phone rings Martha worries that it is the dreaded news that Augusta is gone for good.
Just when Augusta's horrific cycle seems as though it is never going to end, it does. Maybe it was the counseling, maybe it was seeing her mother and father come together to visit her at her many schools, maybe it was growing up. Whatever the reason, Augusta has stopped hating herself and her mother and has become an adult. She tells her mother that she is ready to come home, ready to obey her rules, ready to make something of her life. So Augusta comes home and makes good on her promises.
AUGUSTA, GONE is breathtaking. With utmost honesty, Martha Tod Dudman offers up the true tale of her wild-child daughter and the lengths to which she goes to save her. Thankfully, through the long road of pain and anguish, Augusta has found herself and the bittersweet mother/daughter relationship slowly begins to heal.
Reviewed by Megan Kalan on January 21, 2011