THE CHOSEN ONE, about a young woman coming to terms with the reality of growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon sect, was one of my favorite novels of 2009. Author Carol Lynch Williams brilliantly illustrated just how much was at stake for her heroine as she approached the age at which marriage --- to an undesired partner --- was not only expected but enforced. Her latest book, GLIMPSE, may take place in a somewhat more familiar environment, but it nevertheless explores a similar theme, as her story once again shows that for some girls, coming of age carries more than its fair share of complications and potential for devastating harm.
GLIMPSE begins with a harrowing, indelible scene, as 12-year-old Hope Chapman enters the bathroom: "In one moment / it is over. / In one moment / it is gone. / The morning grows / thin, gray / and our lives-- / how they were-- / have vanished. / Our lives have / changed / when I walk / in on Lizzie / my sister / holding a shotgun." Fourteen-year-old Lizzie tells her little sister she was "just thinking about / leaving." When the girls' mother finds out about Lizzie's suicide attempt, she sends her to a mental hospital, where Lizzie immediately retreats into silence, especially when she comes to visit.
Lizzie seems to open up a little when left alone with Hope, but most often her words come in the form of cryptic warnings, only to be shut off as soon as their mother returns. What is Lizzie trying to protect Hope from? What secrets does Lizzie's psychologist seem to think are hidden in her missing diary? Meanwhile, at home, things for Hope are difficult. Her mother --- who "entertains" male "friends" in exchange for money --- has become increasingly unhinged and paranoid, demanding that Hope leave the house at odd hours and refusing to let her speak to their helpful neighbor, who has always served as a sort of surrogate grandmother for the Chapman girls. Hope doesn't even feel like she can talk about all her problems with her best friend Mari, whose growing-up troubles center mostly on getting her period and hosting the girls' first boy-girl party. Growing up shouldn't be this fraught with complications and danger, should it?
Astute readers will probably suspect Lizzie's secret long before it's explicitly revealed; that doesn't make its harrowing reality any less heartbreaking when Hope finally realizes what's been happening to her sister. For Lizzie, growing into a young woman has been a nightmare; readers are left hoping that coming of age eventually might be a more positive process for Hope.
Williams's novel is told in spare free verse, often with no more than a single verse or line per page. This approach encourages readers to take their time with Hope's story, to absorb it line by line just as she gradually comes to understand the hidden horror of her own home life. The text, although in verse form, is still presented in a convincingly down-to-earth, first-person narrative from Hope's point of view, every word highlighting her loneliness, fear and, yes, hope for her sister, her family and herself. GLIMPSE is a lovely and heartbreaking book, another thoughtful, emotionally wrenching novel from a talented author.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 22, 2010