It's been one year since 10-year-old Kaylee Wren's drug-addicted mother walked out of their secluded cabin door and never came back, leaving little Kaylee in the care of an abusive man. That was the day Kaylee stopped talking. She explains it this way: “I didn't really think about how words sound until I stopped talking. I didn't mean to stop talking. It just sort of happened. My mom left. I got scared. And the words got stuck.”
Now Kaylee spends her days in silence, reading the dictionary her mother left behind, tucking the words into a box in her mind. Words like “Su-per-flu-ous,” “Acc-u-rate” and “Co-los-sal.” Kaylee feels that keeping the words to herself is safe. Her mind is the only place he can't steal them. She knows that what her mom's boyfriend is doing to her is wrong, but she doesn't dare leave. She is convinced that her mother has amnesia and will return as soon as she remembers her.
Thirty-four-year-old Sierra Dawn is an artist haunted by her past. Years ago, her drug addiction cost her her daughter's life. Sierra sets aside one day a year to visit the gravesite and grieve, and spends the rest of the year trying to forget. On the 12th anniversary of her infant daughter's death, Sierra finds herself driving to a secluded redwood forest, where she cries out to God in pain.
That forest is where Sierra and Kaylee connect. Sierra senses right away that Kaylee is in some sort of danger and feels drawn to this child, who is almost the same age as her own daughter would have been. Sierra goes to her best friend for advice and eventually ends up contacting the authorities.
Without giving away the whole story, I'll just say it's at this point where healing truly begins for both Kaylee and Sierra. Their relationship develops delicately. The way Sierra draws Kaylee in and tenderly cares for her is precious. What makes it even more heartfelt is the fact that this is the first time Kaylee has ever experienced appropriate affection from an adult.
One word to describe the book could be “powerful.” That's exactly what this story is, on so many levels. Alternating between the viewpoints of Kaylee and Sierra, we get a glimpse into each character's life and their personal anguish. Kaylee's segments are especially moving. There are parts you may want to skip over or that will bring you to tears. The subject matter is very much “adult-rated,” dealing with neglect, child abuse and pornography, although not graphic in any way.
The writing style is easy and very relatable. Sierra's journey is one of finding a way to forgive herself for the death of her daughter. Her story is ultimately about freedom --- freedom from past mistakes, freedom from guilt, freedom from suppressed pain, and freedom to love again. Kaylee's journey is about truth --- about telling the truth, understanding the truth about what's right and wrong, truth about her self-worth, truth about real love, and truth about God's love for her.
Secondary characters add nicely to the story. Sierra's best friend, Ruby, is not only a fun-loving free spirit, but also a well of wisdom. Sierra's parents offer wonderful support. It's refreshing to see a family unit that is not dysfunctional: parents who are not to blame and did not directly contribute to their child's poor choices --- in Sierra's case, drug abuse. In fact, her parents and Ruby were the ones who cared for her and nursed her through detox all those years ago. It's no surprise that Sierra shows natural mothering instincts toward Kaylee, as she has a wonderful example in her own mother.
If you're looking for a light read, this book is not for you. It contains weighty content and deals with difficult issues. It might make you cry, will probably move your spirit and certainly touch your heart. It's hard to believe this is Ginny L. Yttrup's debut novel. She beautifully and effectively weaves a story of trust, sacrifice, truth, new beginnings, freedom and unconditional love. Here are 334 pages of words that may very well leave you speechless.
Reviewed by Lynda Schab on February 1, 2010