A spirited story of desire and escape in mid-1970s America Fifteen-year-old Loretta, raised by strict Mormon parents, slips out of her bedroom every evening to meet her ‘gentile’ boyfriend, intrigued by his good looks and worldly ways. Her parents catch her returning one night, and promptly marry her off to Dean Harder, a devout yet materialistic fundamentalist who already has a wife and brood of kids.
When Evel Knievel-worshipping Jason, Dean’s teenage nephew, falls in love with Loretta, the pair make a break for it. They drive all night, stay in hotels, and relish their dizzying burst of teenage freedom as they seek to recover Dean’s cache of Mormon gold. But someone is on their trail…
‘An electrifying debut novel that travels some dark roads of American religion and bravado, propelled by a major new voice in fiction’ Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
I was drawn to this novel initially due to the Mormon element in the description. I have a branch of my family who are Mormon and as such know quite a lot about the religion. This book is set in a time and place showing a far more extreme side of the religion. This book also features child abuse and a fairly graphic rape scene.
Loretta is a fairly normal fifteen-year-old girl, except she is growing up in a strict Mormon home, when she is caught sneaking out to see her boyfriend at night her Father decides to marry her off as the second wife to polygamist Mormon, Dean. Going from a strict home to an even stricter marriage is hard on Loretta and she dreams of escape.
When they move and she meets Dean’s nephew, Jason, the opportunity presents itself and the teenagers run.
This book wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I had felt it was going to be a book about runaways, a coming of age novel, kids on the road finding themselves. It was however, more about the journey that gets them there. The pain and heartache Loretta goes through, her loss of innocence and how nobody looks after this young girl and leaves her realising she can only look out for herself. How she learns to manipulate and use people to get what she needs and wants.
This novel is hard to read at times, because it is real, it’s gritty and grimy. Loretta is, at times, a helpless child and at other times she is a nasty spiteful woman. But given her circumstances all of her actions are understandable and to an extent forgiveable.
The supporting characters in this novel are a mixed and varied bunch.
I struggled with the chapter layouts, they were partly laid out as diary entries (?) with the date and location of where this chapter was set. All fine except the story was jumping around a little so it became a bit hard to keep up with where we were. Then at the point of the runaway the chapters became headed by names of various characters and were written from that characters point of view which became very confusing to keep track of! Had the book been written just from one or two people’s point of view and then just shaped around them with normal chapters it would have been far more hard hitting and easier to follow.
I also found it hard to follow the addition of the Evel Knievel sections “addressing an adoring nation”, I never found any relevance for these to the rest of the book, even with Jason being a huge fan they didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book.
Overall, this book is hard hitting and a worthy read, I found this hard to read at times, deeply moving and despite a few personal issues with the chapter layout I highly recommend this novel.
A huge thanks to Shawn Vestal and Penguin Press for the ARC via NetGalley so that I could read and honestly review this book.
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Author: Shawn Vestal
Genre: Young Adult, Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: 12 April 2016
Review Format: eBook
Other Formats: Hardcover, Paperback
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