Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret. He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.
At least so far.
Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. Award-winning novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again?
>> TRIGGER WARNING: This book describes graphic scenes of domestic violence.
After taking years of physical and emotional abuse from his father, teenager Jace decides to drive from Chicago, IL to Albuquerque, NM to meet up with his estranged older brother, Christian, whom he hasn't seen in years. Jace had hoped his mother would come along, but she urges him to go on ahead, simply pressing a paper with Christian's address into Jace's palm and promising to meet up with him in New Mexico for the Thanksgiving holiday.... the thing is, Christian doesn't know Jace is on his way. Jace arrives at Christian's door with a busted face (courtesy of their father), less than $5 to his name and no idea what to say. Christian takes Jace in, figuring questions would get worked out as they went along, and the bulk of the story from there focuses on Jace pretty much rebuilding his life in New Mexico -- starting school again, getting a job, and waiting to see if his mother will actually find the courage to finally leave her abusive husband.
WHEW, this one gets into some tough topics! I found myself tearing up multiple times! Jace's experience with reuniting with Christian after so many years illustrates the challenges of being the younger child with a much older sibling, something I know quite well with my own older sibling. Jace points out to Christian: "Friends get years, but I get 20 minutes."
Another bit I related to was Jace's struggle was coming to terms with the reality that you physically resemble someone you come to strongly dislike ( as in, you physically resembling the parent you constantly butt heads with or the one with questionable life choices / moral compass). Along those lines, this story also points out the reality that abuse can go down in ANY kind of home. For example, Jace's father is a respected judge within the community but at home he's beating the stuffing out of his wife & kids.
Similarly, Jace has his own experience with losing his temper with a girlfriend. This part of the story was a tough spot for me. Up til this portion of Jace's story, I was liking the kid. But I have insanely low.... non-existent, really... tolerance for a guy smacking around a woman for any reason.. the exception being if SHE is physically threatening the guy's life, then by all means he has the right to defend himself as a human. But in Jace's case, it was just a flare up of jealousy and his actions end up scaring the bejeebus out of his girlfriend. While my opinion of him certainly dropped in that moment, he does show redemptive behavior later on in the story. I was really impressed when he comes forward and tells the girl that he's so disappointed in himself he WANTS her to press charges against him, he deserves it. Can you imagine the world if the assaulters across the world suddenly, collectively manned-up like that?! Cue Louis Armstrong!
Jace's experiences teach him to develop what he calls "Fightology" -- lessons to tell himself to get through the worst times. For example, Fightology #8: If you relax your body when a hit is coming, it will hurt less (what's weird is that something about that almost seems logical AND counter-intuitive at the same time) or Fightology #9: Sometimes even the rules won't protect you. It gives the story an extra layer of sadness that he's had to develop such rules to survive his life but over time he finds ways to step away from the hardness and embrace the zen, changing his system to "Calmology": #1 Run every day. #2 Speak up if you have something to say #3 Fix what you can, accept what you can't (a nod to Serenity Prayer), etc.
Like I said, it's a tough story to stomach. Definitely wouldn't recommend it for readers younger than the "older teen" crowd. That said, it brings important truths to light, not only about surviving abuse, but also regarding difficult nuances within sibling and parental relationships.
>> In her acknowledgements section, author Swati Avasthi mentions that this novel (less than 300 pages) took her three years to write.