The Box Children
In her first novel, THE BOX CHILDREN, author Sharon Wyse presents us with the diary of 12-year-old Lou Ann Campbell, a sensitive and inquisitive girl moving between the paper-doll and make-believe world of childhood and the more dangerous grown-up world of adolescence. The long, hot summer of 1960 will prove to be a major turning point in Lou Ann's life --- she'll face many changes both within herself and in the world around her, and do so, like so many of the young, female protagonists we've met in the past, with great strength and determination.
Isolated on her family's north Texas wheat farm, unable to relate with her unstable mother, wary of her father since his games of "tickle mouse" have become alarmingly intimate, and ignored by her teenage brother, lonely Lou Ann divides her time between writing in her diary and confiding in the box children, five miniature dolls, each with its own name and personality, that represent each of the five babies her mother has lost. She keeps both of these things a secret from her mother, the intensely neurotic Loretta, knowing that if they are discovered, the punishment will be severe. Loretta can't stand the thought that her daughter would keep anything from her and goes to great lengths to ensure that she doesn't --- from constantly picking and poking around at Lou Ann's body during bath time to insisting on inspecting Lou Ann's every toilet function before allowing it to be flushed away. Loretta's behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and erratic after discovering her husband may be having an affair and is most certainly frequenting the home of a local prostitute. She takes out her anger and frustration on her husband, son, and the farm's hired hands but mostly on poor, unsuspecting Lou Ann, who is forced to stay by her mother's side most of the day.
As Lou Ann recounts all the horrible things her mother does to her --- from dressing her up as a "tramp," complete with stuffed bra and red lipstick and making her sit on the laps of the hired hands because her daddy likes "hores" so much, to cutting off a chunk of Lou Ann's hair in a jealous rage --- it's all detailed in the calm, rational voice of one who knows they somehow possess the resilience to make it though and ultimately survive the insanity.
This brand of coming-of-age-within-a-dysfunctional-family tale is well worn, and though Wyse's writing abilities are impressive, her story breaks no new ground. There is almost a sense of "been there, done that" with THE BOX CHILDREN. If you've already read Jane Hamilton's BOOK OF RUTH or Dorothy Allison's BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA you might feel an annoying sense of déjà vu while reading Lou Ann's story. Too bad Oprah pulled the plug on her book club --- this is exactly the kind of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" formula she seemed to favor.
Reviewed by Melissa Morgan on January 21, 2011
The Box Children
- Publication Date: July 1, 2003
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Trade
- ISBN-10: 1573229962
- ISBN-13: 9781573229968