If You Find Meby Emily Murdoch
There are some things you can't leave behind . . .
In If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, a broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey's younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very/i>/i>
There are some things you can't leave behind . . .
In If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, a broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey's younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother has disappeared for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.
Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won't let her go . . . a dark past that hides many secrets, including the reason Jenessa hasn't spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.
“Beautifully written. The deep bond between the sisters is almost physically palpable, as is their intense longing for love and acceptance; they will quickly endear themselves to readers.” – School Library Journal (Starred Review)
“A compelling narrative that is both unflinching about life’s pain and hopeful about its possibilities.” – Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“First-time author Emily Murdoch has written a painful, hopeful, surprisingly quiet book that charts the best and worst of humanity, especially family, with characters who worm their way into your heart—or repulse the reader’s very nature. Her narrative is full of unique yet breathtaking similes, detailed descriptions, and unflinching dialogue all masquerading as backwoods Tennessee dialect... She validates the courage and ingenuity of young people the world over for whom survival is instinctive; protection of siblings is nonnegotiable; and love both a right and a gift bestowed upon those fortunate enough to find it.” – Booklist (Starred Review)
“Within two pages, I was so hopelessly hooked, I felt like the story had attached itself to me. The storyline is original and suspenseful, but most of all, it was Carey’s voice that had me flipping the pages. This is one of those books you devour." – Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List
"If You Find Me grabbed me by the heart on page one and didn't let go till the very last word. Murdoch's language is lovely, her storytelling gripping.” —Carol Lynch Williams, author of The Chosen One
“Searing . . . hurt my heart and will probably haunt my dreams – a beautiful book about survival, identity, family, love and so much more.” —Jenny Downham, author of Before I Die
"Carey and Nessa’s story is memorable and deeply moving, and readers will find it very easy to fall in love with these girls.” – Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
If You Find Me
By Emily Murdoch
St. Martin's GriffinCopyright © 2013 Emily Murdoch
All right reserved.
Mama says no matter how poor folks are, whether you’re a have, a have-not, or break your mama’s back on the cracks in between, the world gives away the best stuff on the cheap. Like, the way the white-hot mornin’ light dances in diamonds across the surface of our creek. Or the creek itself, babblin’ music all day long like Nessa when she was a baby. Happiness is free, Mama says, as sure as the blinkin’ stars, the withered arms the trees throw down for our fires, the waterproofin’ on our skin, and the tongues of wind curlin’ the walnut leaves before slidin’ down our ears.
It might just be the meth pipe talkin’. But I like how free sounds all poetic-like.
Beans ain’t free, but they’re on the cheap, and here in the Obed Wild and Scenic River National Park, dubbed “the Hundred Acre Wood,” I must know close to one hundred ways to fix beans. From the dried, soaked-in-water variety to beans in the can—baked beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans …
It don’t sound important. It’s just beans, after all, the cause of square farts, as my sister used to say with a giggle on the end. But when you’re livin’ in the woods like Jenessa and me, with no runnin’ water or electricity, with Mama gone to town for long stretches of time, leavin’ you in charge of feedin’ a younger sister—nine years younger—with a stomach rumblin’ like a California earthquake, inventin’ new and interestin’ ways to fix beans becomes very important indeed.
That’s what I’m thinkin’ as I fill the scratchy cookin’ pot full of water from the chipped porcelain jug and turn on the dancin’ blue flame of the Bunsen burner: how I can make the beans taste new tonight, along with wishin’ we had butter for the last of the bread, which we don’t, because butter don’t keep well without refrigeration.
Sometimes, after a stint away, Mama will appear out of nowhere, clutchin’ a greasy brown sack from the diner in town. Then, everythin’ we eat is buttered thick as flies on a deer carcass, because it would break mine and Jenessa’s hearts to waste those little squares of gold.
Mama says stealin’ butter is free, as long as you don’t get caught.
(She also says g’s are free, and I should remember to tack them onto the ends of my ing words, and stop using ain’t, and talk proper like a lady and all. Just because she forgets don’t mean I should. Just because she’s backwoods don’t mean me and Jenessa have to be.)
At least we have the bread. I’m glad Ness isn’t here to see me scrape the fuzzy green circles off the bottom. If you scrape it carefully, you can’t even taste the must, which, when I sniff it, smells like our forest floor after a wetter month.
I freeze, the rusty can opener one bite into the tin. Nessa? The crunch of leaves and twigs beneath careless feet and the unmistakable sound of branches singin’ off the shiny material of a winter coat is too much noise for Jenessa to make, with her cloth coat and footsteps quiet as an Injun’s. Mama? I scan the tree line for the lemon yellow zing of her spiffy store-bought ski jacket. But the only yellow in sight drips from the sun, fuzzyin’ up the spaces between hundreds of shimmerin’ leaves.
I reckon I know how a deer feels in crosshairs as my heart buh-bumps against my ribs and my eyes open at least as wide as the dinner plates stacked on the flat rock behind me. Movin’ just my eyes, I see the shotgun only a superloooong arm stretch away, and breathe a sigh of relief.
We’re not expectin’ anyone. I think of how I look: the threadbare clothin’ hangin’ loose as elephant wrinkles, my stringy hair limp as overcooked spaghetti soaked in corn oil overnight. In my defense, I’ve been stuck on the violin for days, workin’ out a piece I’ve yet to perfect; “suspended in the zone,” as Mama calls it, where I forget all about the outside parts. Although, here in the backwoods of Tennessee, it don’t matter much. We’ve had maybe one or two lost hikers stumble upon our camp in all the years since Mama stowed us away in this broken-down camper in the sticks.
I listen harder. Nothin’. Maybe it’s just tourists after all. I run my fingers through my hair, then rub the greasy feelin’ off on the legs of my jeans.
The few times I seen myself in the fancy store mirrors, I didn’t recognize myself. Who’s that scruffy, skinny girl with the grasshopper knees? The only mirror we own is a small shard of glass I found in the leaves. In it, I can see one Cyclops eye at a time, or half the button of my nose. The v sittin’ pretty in the middle of my top lip, or the peach fuzz on the tip of my earlobe.
“Seven years bad luck,” Mama said after she’d seen the shard. And I ain’t even the one who busted it. Luck ain’t free. Seven years might as well be ten or twenty or forever, with luck bein’ rare as butter, for Mama, my sister, and me.
Where’s Nessa? I sink into a squat, my eyes sweepin’ the ground for a broken branch to use as a club, just in case I can’t get to the shotgun in time. After last night’s storm, there are a few choice limbs to choose from. The crunchin’ starts again, and I track the sound in the direction of the camper, prayin’ Nessa don’t come back early from her fairy hunt. Better for strangers to move on without seein’ either one of us.
My breath breaks free in marshmeller puffs, and my heart beats heart-attack fast. It’s a man, obviously, one whose voice I don’t recognize, but how does he know our names? Is he a friend of Mama’s?
Joelle is Mama, only she’s not here to answer back. In fact, we haven’t seen her in over a month, maybe two at this point. It’s been a worry, the last few days. While we have enough beans to last a week or so, this is the first time Mama has been gone so long without word. Even Jenessa has started to worry, her face an open book, even if her mouth refuses to voice the words.
More than once, I’ve caught her lips countin’ canned goods and propane tanks, and she don’t need to say what she’s thinkin’, because I lug around the same worry: that we’ll run out of necessities before Mama comes back—if she comes back—which is a dark-enough thought to tumble me into my own pit of silence.
My sister don’t talk much. When she does, it’s only to me, in moth-winged whispers, and only when we’re alone. By the time Ness turned six, Mama had grown worried enough to disguise her youngest daughter as “Robin” for the day and whisk her off to the speech therapist in town, a smart-lookin’ woman who diagnosed Jenessa with a condition called “selective mutism.” Nothin’ Mama said, threatened, or did could break Ness’s resolve.
I clap my hands over my ears and use my thinkin’ to drown out the calls.
It’s strange, hearin’ a man’s voice, when it’s mostly been us females. I used to wish I had a father, like the girls in my books, but wishin’ don’t make things so. I don’t remember anythin’ about my own father, except for one thing, and Mama laughed when I brought it up. As embarrassed as I was, I guess it is funny, how my one memory of my father is underarms. She said the scent of pine and oak moss I remember came from a brand of deodorant called Brut. And then she’d gotten annoyed because I didn’t know what deodorant was, said I asked far too many questions, and her jug of moonshine was empty.
“It’s okay, girls! Come on out!”
Why won’t he just go away? What the heck is Mama thinkin’? I don’t care how much money he promised her—I’m not gonna do those things no more. And I’ll kill ’im, I swear, if he lays one finger on Jenessa.
All I have to do is stay hidin’, and wait for him to leave. That’s the plan, the only plan, until I catch a skip of pink dancin’ through the brown and greenery, and the butter yellow head of a little girl lost in a fairy world.
Look up! Hide!
But it’s too late—he sees her, too.
Nessa stumbles, her mouth open, and a gasp escapes. Her head whips left, then right. The man probably thinks she’s searchin’ for an escape route, but I know my little sister better than anyone, even God. Jenessa is tryin’ to find me.
Makin’ my own careless leaf sounds, I rise, my eyes on Nessa, who sees me immediately and flies across the forest into my arms. Our heads crank in the direction of new movement, this time in the form of a woman thin as chicken bones, her gait uneven as her heels sink into the soft forest floor.
Jenessa clings like a leech, her legs wrapped round my waist. The scent of her hair, sunbaked and sweaty, is so personal, it aches in my belly. Like a dog, I can smell her fear, or maybe it’s mine. I shake it off fast as my face smoothes into stone and I collect myself, because I’m in charge.
Neither the man nor the woman moves. Don’t they know it’s impolite to stare? Bein’ city folk and all? She looks over at him, her face unsure, and he nods at her before goin’ back to starin’ at us, his gaze unwaverin’.
“Carey and Jenessa, right?” she says.
I nod, then curse myself as my attempt at a “Yes, ma’am” comes out in a squeak. I stop, clear my throat, and try again.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m Carey, and this is my sister, Jenessa. If you’re lookin’ for Mama, she went into town for supplies. Can I help you with somethin’?”
Nessa squirms in my iron grip, and I command my arms to relax. At least I’m not shakin’, which would be a dead giveaway for Nessa, but truth be told, I’m shakin’ inside.
Maybe the church folk sent them. Maybe they met Mama in town, beggin’ money for her next fix. Maybe they talked some Jesus into her, and came out to drop off some food.
“Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses or somethin’?” I continue. “Because we’re not interested in savin’ by some guy in the sky.”
The man’s face breaks into a smile, which he covers with a cough. The woman frowns, swats at a mosquito. She looks mighty uncomfortable standin’ in our woods, glancin’ from me to Ness and then back again, shakin’ her head. I smooth down my hair, releasin’ my own musky scent of dust and sunbaked head. The woman’s nutmeg brown hair, unsprung from her bun, makes me think of Nessa’s after a hard play, with tendrils like garter snakes crawlin’ down her neck and stickin’ there. It’s pretty hot for fall.
Even from here, I can tell the woman washed her hair this mornin’. It probably smells like fancy flowers, unlike the heels of soap we use to wash ours.
“There’s a table over there, if you want to sit awhile,” I say uninvitin’ly, hopin’ she don’t. But she nods and I take the lead, cartin’ Nessa to the clearin’ by the camper, past the fire pit poppin’ and smokin’ as the kindlin’ catches on, past the canned goods locked in a rusty metal cabinet nailed to the trunk of a tree, and over to a battered metal foldin’ table surrounded by mismatched chairs: two metal, one wicker, and two large stumps with cushions that used to cling like puffy skin to our old rockin’ chair.
The man and woman sit, him in a metal chair, while she chooses the large stump with the cleanest cushion. I plunk Nessa in the wicker and keep the table between us and them. I stay standin’, with plenty of room for a fast getaway if need be. But they both seem normal enough, not like kidnappers or drug dealers or crazy church folk. She looks important, in her store-bought tan suit. This fact makes me nervous more than anythin’ else.
They watch quietly as I put my violin away in its case and then fill three tin cups with a stream of water from the jug. I want to tell them I boiled the water first, and that the creek is clean, but I don’t. Dolin’ out the cups, I cringe when I catch sight of my nails, ragged and uneven, a ribbon of dirt stretched beneath each.
Twice I step on Nessa’s foot, and tears spring to her eyes. I pat her head—it’ll have to do—then stand back, fold my arms, and wait.
“Wouldn’t you like to sit?” the woman asks, her voice soft.
I glance at Nessa, squirmin’ in her seat, shyly slurpin’ her water, and shake my head no. The woman smiles at me before fumblin’ through her briefcase. She slides out a manila folder thick with pages. The white label on the front, I can even read upside down. It says: “Blackburn, Carey and Jenessa.”
“My name is Mrs. Haskell,” she says.
She pauses, and I follow her gaze back to my sister, who pours a few drops of water into an old bottle cap. We all watch as Nessa leans down and sets it in front of a fat beetle laborin’ through the sea of wanwood leafmeal.
I nod, not knowin’ what to say. It’s hard to keep my eyes on her when the man keeps starin’ at me. I watch a tear slip down his clean-shaven cheek, surprised when he don’t wipe it away. Puzzle pieces click-clack into old places and my stomach twists at the picture they’re startin’ to make.
He hasn’t offered his name, and he isn’t familiar to me. But in that instant, hittin’ like a lightnin’ bolt, I know who he is.
“It’s called Brut. I can’t smell it anymore without gettin’ sick, thinkin’ what he did to us.”
The memory bridges ten years of space, and, just like that, I’m five again, and on the run, clutchin’ my dolly to my chest like a life preserver. Mama, crazy-eyed and talkin’ nonsense, backhandin’ the questions from my lips until the salty-metal taste of tears and blood make me forget the questions in the first place.
“Do you know why we’re here?”
Mrs. Haskell searches my face as my stomach contents begin their climb: beans, of course. Baked beans cold from the can, the sweet kind Nessa likes so much. I feel like a fortune-teller, knowin’ her words are about to change the earth below and the sky above and rearrange everythin’ we hold normal and dear.
I stare at her, expectin’ the inevitable.
“We’re here to take you home, Carey.”
I wait for the ground to right itself, and once it does, I fling myself into the bushes and let the beans fly. Afterward, the anger licks my innards like a wildfire. I turn around, hands on my hips, and stare this woman down. She cringes when I wipe my mouth on the sleeve of my T-shirt.
“That’s impossible, ma’am. We are home. We live here with our mama.”
“Where is your mom, honey?”
I glare at her; no way I’m fallin’ for the “honey” bit.
“Like I said, Mama went into town for supplies. We were runnin’—running—out of some stuff and—”
“How long has she been gone?”
I have to lie. Jenessa is almost hyperventilatin’, on the verge of one of her nervous fits. She skitters over and stands next to me, reachin’ for my hand and holdin’ it so tight, my pulse punches through my fingernails.
“Mama left this mornin’. We’re fixin’ on seein’ her before nightfall.”
I give Ness’s hand a hard squeeze.
“Your mother said she left over two months ago. We received her letter yesterday.”
The blood rushes from my head and my ears ring. I grasp onto a nearby branch for steadyin’. I must have heard her wrong. But she nods her head yes, her eyes full of sorrys I don’t want to hear.
Jenessa’s tears tickle my arm like chiggers, and I want to scratch, but I can’t let go of her hand. She sags against me, and again, I burn. Look what they’re doin’ to my sister. Mama was right: Outsiders can’t be trusted. All they do is ruin lives.
Mrs. Haskell smiles an apologetic smile, a practiced smile, like we’re not her first victims, nor her last. I wonder how many kids have stood before her like this, swayin’ in their newly tiltin’ worlds. Hundreds, I’d bet, goin’ by her eyes.
However, I see a sadness there, too; a softness for us, a familiar bent of the head that comes from the things we’re used to seein’, like the sun-dazzled canopies of the Hundred Acre Wood, or learnin’ to go without butter, or havin’ Mama disappear for weeks on end.
She waits until I’m steady again. I hold on to her eyes, like a rock in the roilin’ river.
“Your mother wrote us last month, Carey. She said she could no longer take care of you and your sister—”
“That’s a lie! She’d never leave us!”
“She asked us to intervene,” she continues, ignorin’ my outburst. “We would’ve been here sooner, but we couldn’t find you girls. She really had you hidden away pretty good.”
But it’s a strangled cry, a hollow cry, floatin’ away on the air like dandelion fluff and wishes that don’t come true. And then, as quick as the emotion escapes, it freezes over. I stand up straight. I am ice, slippery and cool, impenetrable and in control.
“You must have it wrong, ma’am. Mama wouldn’t leave us permanent-like. You must’ve misunderstood.”
The three of us jump back, but not fast enough. Nessa’s stomach contents spatter Mrs. Haskell’s fancy shoes. This, I can tell, is somethin’ she ain’t used to. Mrs. Haskell throws up her hands, and without thinkin’, I fling my arms in front of my face.
“Oh, God, honey, no—”
“Just leave us alone,” I snap. “I wish you’d never found us!”
Without a word, she knows another one of my secrets, and I hate her for it. I hate them both.
Her eyes burn into my back as I lead Jenessa over to a pail. I dip a clean rag into the water and dab at my sister’s mouth, her eyes glazed over and dartin’ from me to them like a cornered rabbit. The man walks away, his shoulders saggin’. He pulls a cigarette pack from his coat pocket, the cellophane crinklin’ like a butterscotch wrapper.
Get a hold of yourself this instant, Carey Violet Blackburn! Fix this!
“You’re scarin’ my little sister,” I say, my voice close to a hiss. “Look, Mama will be home tomorrow. Why don’t you come back and we can discuss it then?”
I sound just like an adult. Pretty convincin’, if you ask me.
“I’m sorry, Carey, but I can’t do that. Under the laws of the state of Tennessee, I can’t leave two minor children unattended in the woods.”
I soak another rag in the water and hand it to Mrs. Haskell, lowerin’ myself onto the rough bark of a downed tree. Then I pull Ness onto my lap, my arm around her waist, not even carin’ about the acrid smell that replaces the sweet, sunbaked one from just an hour ago. Her body is limp, like a rag doll in my arms. She’s already gone.
“Can I see the letter, ma’am?”
Mrs. Haskell picks her way over to the table, riffles through more papers, and returns with a sheet of my own notebook paper containin’ a handful of lines that, even from a distance, I recognize as Mama’s scratchy penmanship. I pluck the page from her fingers, turn from her, and begin readin’.
To Whom It May Concern,
I’m writing in regards to my daughters, Carey and Jenessa Blackburn …
It’s as far as I get before the waterfall blinds me. I wipe my face with the back of my hand, pretendin’ I don’t care that everyone sees.
“Can I keep it, ma’am?”
Without waitin’ for an answer, I fold the paper into smaller and smaller squares before shovin’ it into my jeans pocket.
Mrs. Haskell nods. “That’s just a copy. The original is in your official records. We need it for the hearing, when your case goes before the judge.”
I jut my chin at the man on the bench, who’s watchin’ us, squintin’ through a latticework of cigarette smoke, his form spotlighted by the wanin’ sunlight.
“I know who he is, and we’re not goin’ with him.”
“I have permission from Child Services to release you into his custody.”
“So we have no choice?”
Mrs. Haskell sits down next to me, lowerin’ her voice.
“You have a choice, Carey. If you refuse to go with him, we can place you in foster care. Two foster homes. Our families are pretty full right now, and we can’t find one that can take both of you at present. In light of your sister’s condition—”
“She’s not retarded or nothin’. She just don’t talk.”
“Even so, her, um, issue requires special placement. We found a home for Jenessa, but they’re just not equipped to take two children right now.”
Nessa’s thumb finds her mouth, and her hair, soaked with sweat, falls in a curtain across her eyes. She makes no move to smooth it away. She’s hidin’ in plain sight.
“I can’t leave my sister alone with strangers.”
“I don’t think it’s the best idea, either. We like to place children with relatives whenever possible. Taking into account Jenessa’s bond with you, I think it would be detrimental to her emotional well-being to separate the two of you. It’s already going to be a big adjustment as it is.”
I glare in the direction of the man on the bench, this man I don’t know and barely recognize. I think of runnin’ away, like maybe we should’ve done as soon as we saw them comin’. But we have no money, no place to go. There’s no car to pull the camper, since Mama drove off with it, and we can’t stay here. They know where we are now. They know everythin’.
I think of tellin’ her what Mama told me about him, because there’s no way she’d make us go with him, if she knew. But I look down at Ness, disappearin’ before our eyes.
I can’t leave my sister.
“How much time do we have?”
“Enough time to pack up your things. You’ll need to pack a bag for your sister also.”
She leaves us sittin’ there, with the late-afternoon sun dapplin’ the forest floor as if it’s any other day. I watch her reach into the bin by the foldin’ table, then walk back over. She hands me two of the shiny black garbage bags folded up like Mama’s letter. I slip out from under Jenessa, balance her on the tree, and proceed to shake each bag into its full size. We all stop and watch the birds scatter into jagged flight at the unnatural sound of plastic slappin’ the air.
“Just take the necessities. We’ll send someone back to pack up the rest.”
I nod, glad to turn my gaze toward the camper before my face melts again. How could Mama do this to us? How could she leave us to fend for ourselves—leave us at all—without explainin’ or sayin’ good-bye?
I hate her with the fury of gasoline set on fire. I burn for Jenessa, who deserves better than this, better than some screwed-up, drug-addicted mother, better than this chaos that always seems to find us, rubbin’ off on us like some horrible rash.
Ness is my shadow as the camper door creaks on its hinges, this old piece-of-crap ve-hic-le we’ve called home for almost as long as I can remember—definitely as long as Ness can remember.
I glance around, absorb the mess, the clothes strewn about, the plates dribblin’ crumbs or caked with dried bean glue, and begin to pack Ness’s bag first. She sits on the cot, unmovin’, not even jumpin’ when I grab the nearest book, one of her Winnie-the-Poohs, and slam it down on a cockroach scuttlin’ across the tiny stainless-steel sink; without runnin’ water, it was as useless as a dollhouse sink, until I’d turned it into a place to store plates and cups. Mama never hooked the camper up to water because water sources meant campgrounds, sites out in the open, and judgmental strangers with pryin’ eyes.
Almost everythin’ of Nessa’s is some shade of pink. I pack a pair of scuffed Mary Janes and her pale pink sneakers, her neon pink long-sleeve T-shirt, a dark pink-and-red-striped T-shirt, and another T-shirt with a peelin’-off Cinderella iron-on on the front. I pack her spare undershirt and underpants; “one on and one off,” as Mama says when we complain. Ness’s jeans look small and vulnerable stretched between my hands, and my heart wrenches.
When her bag is full, I use mine to gather up her rag doll, her one-armed teddy bear, and her stuffed dog. Her Pooh books. The brush and elastics. On top, I place my own pair of jeans (one on, one off), a newer T-shirt, two tank tops, my spare underpants, and the only shoes I own besides the ratty sneakers on my feet: a pair of cowboy boots from a garage sale in town, the toes stuffed with tissue paper to force a fit.
Not much fits me clotheswise, after a growth spurt last year. Now I’m glad, because it means more room for Jenessa’s stuff. I don’t need much room anyhow. I don’t have toys from childhood or any stuffed animals. I left my childhood behind when Mama dragged us off in the middle of the night. My belongin’s consist of a sketch pad I place on top of the pile, while I make a mental note not to forget my most prized possession: the violin that Mama taught me to play the year we moved to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Mama played in a symphony before she met my father. I grab the scrapbook crammed with clippin’s from her performances and place it on top of the sketch pad, then draw the yellow plastic strings tight. The bag looks close to burstin’ by the time I’m through. But it’s good, because I bet the bag holds more than any suitcase would, if we had one.
Before I can call for her, Mrs. Haskell appears, and I hand her down the bag, which she struggles beneath. The man gets up to help, lockin’ on my eyes while takin’ the bag from her and slingin’ it over his back. He does the same with the second bag.
“May I have one more bag, ma’am?”
Mrs. Haskell obliges. I fill it with our schoolbooks, with my Emily Dickinson, my Tagore, my Tennyson and Wordsworth, making the bag impossibly heavy. Lookin’ at the man, I’d have giggled in different circumstances. He looks like a reverse sort of Santa Claus. A Santa Claus of garbage.
No one speaks as he plunks the lightest bag down in front of Mrs. Haskell.
I go back inside and gather Ness from the bed. Reachin’ out, I pluck her thumb gently from her mouth. Her lips remain in an O shape, and the thumb pops right back in.
“You’re gonna make your teeth crooked, you know it.”
She stares right through me, droolin’ a little, and I give her a hug before helpin’ her stand up and walk to the door.
“How about a piggyback?”
I squat in front of her, and she slowly climbs on.
“Hold on tight, ’k?”
The sun is meltin’, poolin’ behind the trees, and still Mama don’t come. I scan the Hundred Acre Wood, somehow expectin’ her to show up with a greasy brown bag and save the day, but she don’t.
The man takes the lead, with Mrs. Haskell strugglin’ behind him, trippin’ over roots and sinkin’ into the mud, cursin’ under her breath as Ness and I follow. It’s a long ways to the road, and if we go the way they’re headin’, it’ll be twice as long.
“This way, ma’am,” I say, poppin’ Nessa farther up my back and takin’ the lead, refusin’ to meet the man’s eyes as he steps aside so we can pass.
I focus on the endless treetops scrapin’ the sunset into gooey colors, the birds trillin’ and fussin’ at our departure. I close my eyes for a second, breathin’ in deep to make serious memories, the kind that stick forever. I’d locked up the camper on my way out, but I don’t know who has a key, since Ness and I don’t, and we’d only ever locked up when we were inside.
Mama has a key, and the least she could’ve done, if she wasn’t comin’ back, would’ve been to leave it for us. And then I remember: the old hollow hickory, the one a few hundred feet past the clearin’. I’m eight years old, watchin’ Mama slide a sweaty white string off her neck with a brass key danglin’ from it, glintin’ in the sunlight.
“This is our spare, and if you ever need it, it’ll be right here in the tree. See?”
She places it into the hollow, where it disappears like a magic trick.
I feel safer, somehow, knowin’ the key is there.
If I ever need it, if Ness and I come back, it’ll be there waitin’ for us.
Copyright © 2013 by Emily Murdoch
Excerpted from If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch Copyright © 2013 by Emily Murdoch. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
EMILY MURDOCH lives in the Arizona desert with her husband and adopted dogs, spending her days operating a sanctuary for slaughter-rescued horses and burros. At night, she writes furiously by candlelight, capturing the ideas inspired by the day. If You Find Me is Murdoch's first published novel.
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I was lucky enough to win an advanced reader's copy of this book, and it arrived in the mail a month ago. It was excellent timing, as I was running out of books. I figured I'd knock out a couple of chapters before bed, to relax me enough to get to sleep. Bad decision. I was sucked in from the first page, and couldn't stop until I had finished it. Carey and Jenessa are 'feral children', and have been living in the woods since their mother kidnapped them years ago. Carey does her best to take care of Jenessa, keeping her clean and fed, and teaching her how to read. Even though they live in near-squalor, Carey insists that they practice manners and adhere to a normal routine. When their drug-addicted mother abandons them, their father steps in to raise them. At first, they are very resistant to getting to know him, since their mother led them to believe that he was a horribly abusive man and that she had taken them away to protect them. Their transition from being isolated to attending school is fairly seamless, as they are both intelligent children. Slowly, the secrets of what happened in the woods start to surface. A beautiful novel about finding a family, this book broke my heart. Gripping and heartbreaking, it will stick with you for a long time. The writing is lyrical yet stark. Emily Murdoch is a fresh and evocative voice in fiction, and I am very much looking forward to hearing more from her.
Amazing book! The prose is beautiful and the story...I'll be thinking about it for a long time.
If you want me to tell you one characteristic of If You Find Me, then it’s this. It’s EMOTIONAL. This book is so freaking sad I practically cried from start to end. And it’s beautiful too. Sad and beautiful, and sad again. Carey grew up in a broken-down camper in the middle of the woods, with her Mom and younger sister Jenessa. It’s clear from the start Carey’s Mom was mentally ill, or at least some of the time, and the girls struggled to survive, sometimes left alone for weeks on end. Their Mom disappears again, and this time around, longer than ever before. Carey grows worried something bad might’ve happened to her Mom. When she begins to suspect her Mom might never return, two strangers arrive at the spot, and even though they’re friendly, Carey doesn’t trust them. They take them away from the only home they’ve ever known. They go to live with their Dad and his new family, and they have to begin from scratch. They’ve never been to school, and are behind on nearly all subjects. Then there’s all those people, fancy restaurants, and all those things Carey and Jenessa aren’t used to. And most of all, they have to deal with the past and what happened the night Jenessa stopped talking. This book was haunting. Beautiful. Amazing. I have trouble describing it because it was so darn good. Then why only four stars? Because whereas the drama was complex and interesting, it kind of lost its touch halfway through, and then picked it up again toward the end. Also, at the beginning when Carey and Jenessa first meet their Dad, the pace is slow and the dialogue a bit repetitive. The flashbacks weren’t always clear either, and sometimes made me lose the connection with the story. I struggled to keep reading halfway through, but then the emotions of Carey and Jenessa’s journey sucked me back in. However, this lowered the rating from a five stars to a solid four stars. The best part about the book was Jenessa and Carey’s relationship, which is beautiful. I also liked how their Dad tried to make them feel at home, and his new wife did everything she could for them as well. Not all stepmoms are like that, but they aren’t all wicked either. I liked to see a nice stepmom for a change, especially since Jenessa and Carey hadn’t had much luck with their own Mom. I also liked how the flashbacks explained what happened before they disappeared, and how they showed more about Carey’s past. While I liked Carey, and her journey for self-discovery as she adapted to this new world, I liked Jenessa even more. Everything about what she went through broke my heart. And even though so, she was still a happy, lovely child. I liked the writing. Emily Murdoch has a natural-sounding but lyrical writing voice, which is an odd combination, but works wonders. The pace was decent most of the time although, like I mentioned, it dragged in the middle part. This book conjured all sorts of emotions within me, and I even cried at some point. That shows the book’s strength. It’s a debut novel, and there may be some small flaws, but it’s a strong, splendid, emotional read. I recommend this to everyone who wants to read a darker, rawer YA contemporary novel.
An ARC copy. this was a delight to be able to read this book before it is released to the public. It was a wonderful story with a happy ending. I am not very good at giving reviews but I will try. Cary was kidnapped by her mother and taken to live in the woods when she was 5. Her mother left her and her sister there one day and never came back. Now she's 14 and her father has found her and is taking bother girls home with him, and now she not only has to try to rejoin the real world again she has to get over what was done to her and her sister for all those years. It an easier adjustment for her 6 year old sister, where as Cary finds it harder to be in the open and not surrounded by all the trees that are in the woods where she can hide. Its a story of a girl who was abused and hurt one too many times. Relearning the world she barely remembers and the the best friend she had before she disappeared. But like all great stories there is a happy ending.
Wow. I always know I've just read a really great book if my head is still spinning around it long after I've finished. If You Find Me was such a strong, unbelievably impacting, emotionally beautiful story that I fell in love with from Chapter 1. Carey is taken by her mentally ill mother and forced to live in the woods in a camper, without running water, food, or heat. Her mother disappears for weeks, sometimes months at a time, off into the city leaving Carey alone and forced to fight for her own survival. Carey soon has a younger sister to help raise as well, all in these woods with no outside contact, other than the men her mother brings in for money or drugs. Carey is so protective over Jenessa, who depends on her sister completely for her survival. When finally their mother leaves for good, two people show up in the woods and find Carey and Jenessa... and little do they know these two people will change their lives forever. Carey and Jenessa will be forced to find truths that will be hard to handle, as well as learn to live a life unlike anything they've ever known. I really can't put into words how intense this story was. Trust me when I say you will want to have tissues available. It's heart-wrenchingly sad at times, immensely loving at others. This story is sure to tug at the heartstrings and leave your mind and emotions reeling when you're done. I have to mention too how much I loved all the references to Winnie the Pooh... from the "Hundred Acre Wood" to the cute little quotes at the beginning of the different parts to the book. I have already recommended this book to many people while reading it, and I will be sure to recommend it long into the future.
I listened to this book in audio and loved it so much, I bought it as an ebook to read . I don't know how else to explain that this book was very good and definitely worth buying and reading. You won't regret it!
I’d heard about “If You Find Me” well before it was published, and for some reason I never thought to add it to my TBR pile. A couple choice sound bites–an acquaintance review of the ARC, a letter from the author posted to a blog post I read, and a New York Times review (I think)–talked me into giving the story a shot. And how freaking glad am I that I did? “If You Find Me” was not one of those books that I expected to fall in love with, or blow through in a day(ish) because the protagonist’s voice was so unique. And yet, Emily Murdoch’s review made me do both. I thought the premise of the novel was pretty niche. While there are an increasing number of YA contemporaries being written about kidnappings, very few of the ones I’ve read have addressed the aftermaths. None have dealt with the added burden that parental kidnapping causes. Carey and her younger sister Nessa have lived in a camper in a section of Tennessee wilderness for most of Carey’s life. Their meth-addicted mother comes and goes, and when the story opens she has been gone for an unprecedented amount of time. After a letter reaches Carey’s father regarding their location, the girls end up trying to go back to modern life–a difficulty because of Nessa’s silence and Carey’s secrets. One of the things I usually make no secret about is the fact that I hate novels written in dialect. Most of them make me squirm at worst, or force me to fill in unaccented speech at best. It’s a testament to Murdoch’s writing ability that Carey’s voice rings authentic, that I never felt as though I had to correct her speech patterns or cringed at some of her turns of phrase. The family dynamics were especially strong, between Carey and her sister, and the two girls and their new family. Carey’s efforts toward overcoming her mistrust of her father and stepsister while growing to understand and love them rang so true. And as an animal lover, I practically melted anytime Nessa’s attachment to the family dog appeared on the page. Though I had a pretty good guess regarding Carey’s secret and why Nessa doesn’t speak, Murdoch actually managed to prove me at least partially wrong. In some cases the events that drive Carey’s reactions to strangers would’ve felt overdone or melodramatic, but here I thought they worked perfectly. Having enjoyed this novel so much, I’ll be waiting somewhat patiently for Emily Murdoch’s next book.
This is definitely a must read. Just do it.
The book by Emily Murdoch, If you find me, is a breath of fresh air. Not only is it extremely original, its also fasinating. For thoughs of you that have not read this book yet and are looking through the reviews, take my advice. Read this book of greatness and pray for a sequel. - Aurora C. Summers
I don't know how to put my thoughts into words when it comes to this book. I really don't. If You Find Me broke my heart in tiny little pieces. As I reader, I always experienced this feeling of wishing I could dive in the book and save the day. I've never wanted to be able to do this more than with this book. Not to save the day but only to hug Carey and Jenessa. I wanted to adopt these girls and give them all the love they never got from their own mother. Even now thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. This part of the book was so hard to read. The abuse and neglect these girls experienced made me feel like I couldn't breathe and powerless because I couldn't help them. Even though my heart broke in parts of this book I just couldn't help but loving it. In all that darkness and sadness there was hope and healing. I didn't trust anybody just like Carey but in the end almost all of the people she crossed after she got rescued from the camper were so amazing to her and her sister. Her dad and stepmom were highlights in the book. These people wanted nothing else but to make the girls happy and comfortable. They showed the sisters love and what being a real parent is all about. Their relationship was just beautiful. This book is beautifully written and is definitely a fast read. I know it sounds like a depressing book, but it really isn't. It was so amazing and powerful. I hope you guys give it a try. I really do.
This was a great book great plot twist and amazing. Character development
Truely enjoyed this book from start to finish. Read it in 1 night. It's a very sad story with a very happy ending. True, it is fiction, but it makes you think. This could really happen. Scary.
Easy reading and continues to spark your interest....never a dull moment!
If You Find Me is Emily Murdoch's debut novel. This story follows fifteen-year-old Carey and her six-year-old sister Jenessa as they try to adjust to a modern life after being found living in the middle of Obed Scenic and Wild River National Park for the past ten years. Their mother, suffering from untreated mental illness and a meth addiction, has subjected the girls to a life of neglect and abuse. This lifestyle if the only one Carey can remember and the only one Jenessa has ever known. Events prompt child protective services to locate the girls and they are placed with Carey's father and thrust into a world foreign to them. "I'm like Ness's broken-legged chipmunk, which had to be shaken and poked out of the birdcage once it healed, preferring the familiar, even if the familiar was a jail. Home is home." "In Obed, I was queen of the world. In the zone, violin wailing, all the animals stopped to listen to a bow coax music from wood. Here, there's always noise. Pointless sounds. Electric lights humming, keyboards clicking, phones chirping, music playing, people chattering. My head is Thanksgiving Day-full, and I hate it." This story is told with such a poetic voice and the weight of the girls' past makes this story emotional and deeply moving. Although parts are difficult to read, themes in this story include a powerful sibling bond, friendship, and redemption, and I would recommend this book to anyone who believes triumph and healing are possible despite experiencing circumstances out of one's control. My favorite quotes: “We make attachments to what's familiar. We find the beauty, even in the lack. That's human. We make the best of what we're given.” “I answer her with my silence, understanding the full power of it for the first time. Words are weapons. Weapons are powerful. So are unsaid words. So are unused weapons.” "No one warned me that being close to people meant hurting sometimes, both them and you." "Funny how people know what shame is, even when you don't have a name for it. No matter. It feels the same."
Rating: 4 Stars I am going to say this first: This is a tremendous debut. It is. It was not only beautifully written but also made you root for Carey and I’m glad that this book was her debut. Emily Murdoch is an amazing writer with a fresh voice; I was hooked from the very first word to the very last. This book touches on a lot of sensitive topics and I think that she did a great job writing about it in a way that it matched the story well (compared to some of the other books out there). However, I will say that I was a little disappointed. I was expecting something a little more… mysterious/suspense and something less… what I got. At least that was the feeling I got based on the book flap and the book cover. I also thought that Carey’s memories “returned” a little too quickly for my taste. The beginning kind of dragged on forever and I was already close to 3/4 of the book when everything (including the difficult parts) started wrapping up much too quickly for my taste (especially how Carey came to a truce with her step-sister). It was almost like she knew that her story was coming to an end so the story universe started handing her answers after answers to make everything better within a couple of pages. All in all, this was a great debut and I am looking forward to her next book!
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley.) 15-year-old Carey has been living in a caravan in the woods for years. Her drug-addict mother comes and goes, and Carey is left to look after her 6-year-old mute sister. One day a man and a woman turn up at their home in the woods, the man claims to be Carey’s father, and the woman is from social services – Carey’s mother has written a letter saying that she can no longer look after the girls and has asked social services to find them in the woods and take them into care. Carey’s father explains that he had custody of Carey because of her mother’s drug abuse, and that Carey’s mother kidnapped her and hid her in the woods so that he couldn’t take her away from her. Now Carey and Janessa will be going to live with Carey’s father. What happened in the woods though? Why doesn’t Janessa speak? And how long will it take for Carey and Janessa to get used to the real world? This wasn’t really what I was expecting, I thought there would be more about the ‘finding’ of Carey, than what happened after she was found. Carey seemed quite mature most of the time, but then quite immature at other moments. Obviously she had been forced to grow up as she had been left to look after her little sister since she was born. Carey was more of a mother to Jenessa than her real mother ever was, and it was pretty harsh that Carey’s mother had basically abandoned them. Carey’s mother was addicted to drugs, and made money to buy drugs through prostitution. Carey and Jenessa survived with very little clothing and very meagre food rations. I personally didn’t quite understand why Carey’s mother had bothered to kidnap her seeing as she then left her alone in the woods most of the time, I couldn’t decide if it was just to spite Carey’s father, because she was delusional from the drugs, or because she thought she could use Carey to make money. I never considered the fact that Jenessa didn’t speak to be such a mystery. I figured that it was in response to something bad that happened in the woods, but I personally was more invested in finding out what happened to Carey. She was a strong character, but to me it seemed obvious that this strength was hard won, and as much of a response to something bad happening as was Jenessa’s silence. I liked the storyline in this book, but I thought we would have had more time spent on the finding of Carey and Janessa, instead of going straight into what happened to them after they were found. I also wondered what exactly had happened to their mother, as this wasn’t really covered, we knew that she had sent a letter to social services and disappeared, but we didn’t know how or why. Overall; I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. 7 out of 10.
I was a little skeptical at first of what the book was going to be about, but i was in for a huge suprise, because i loved it!! I am so happy that i gave this book a chance, its amazing and i think that everyone over the age of 14 should read this. It totally opened my eyes and the authors writing style captured my attention and held it until the very last page. I only wish that it was a little longer.
I recommend this to anyone and everyone. Sad it was over ):
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Carey is no ordinary 14 year old, she has spent 10 years in the woods with her mother fighting for her and her younger sister's life each and every day with no help. After being found after an unusual circumstance, she has to quickly adapt to a whole new and different world while helping her sister see the outside world for the first time.
This book killed me! It brought out so much emotion in me that I honestly didn’t know how to handle it! I bawled like a baby in the touching moments, I saw red and cried angry tears when reading the horrendous ordeal that these girls had to go through, I shed nervous tears for their first days of school and witnessing Carey’s integration into school. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch ripped my heart apart, and made my soul cry. This is one story that readers will never forget. Life in the Hundred Acre Woods is the only life that sisters Carey and Janessa know and remember. And it’s routine for their mother to abandon them in the woods for weeks at a time with very little food. But this time it’s different. Their mother doesn’t return. Instead, a surprise of all surprises finds them deep in the woods…Carey’s birth father. But after being told by her mother that they ran away from their father because of his abusive ways, it’s not the happiest of all moments. It appears that Carey and Janessa’s mother finally did something right. Relinquished her custody of the children and gave it Carey’s father. But learning how to live in an actual home…with food that they don’t need to ration, clothes that they can pick and choose to wear, warmth, running water and toilet paper, and all other essentials…is a huge step for both girls. But with a deep, dark secret that looms over both Carey and Janessa, so deep and dark infact that it has caused Janessa to revert into not speaking, what would the consequences be should that secret come out? Will they both lose the life that they have just become accustomed to? Will they lose the family (their family) that has so readily opened their arms and accepted them? Will love and acceptance ever be in their future? Oh. My. Feels. you guys… Even with the dark and disturbing content that is found in If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, the possible light at the end of the tunnel…that little semblance of hope…kept me going. I NEEDED to see if these girls were going to be okay. I NEEDED to know if their drug addicted, abusive, neglectful mother was going to be out of the picture, or if she would re-appear and ruin what has just begun. I HAD to know if there was going to be a happily ever after! Author, Emily Murdoch’s writing was amazing. I could easily picture every single scene in this book. I could feel the pain and hurt in every word written. I could hear the crunch of the leaves in the forest, the rumbling of hungry stomachs. I could smell forest surrounding these girls, and I could smell the filth that they had to live in. I could almost feel the cold chill of the winters as they huddled together to keep warm. The raw emotion that is poured out in the writing is so overpowering at times that I felt like I was on emotional overload. I was so angry at one point, that I literally wanted to throw my reader against the wall and scream “WHY!”. I can’t even fathom how a mother could be the way Carey and Janessa’s mother is. How low do you have to be to subject your kids to what these little girls had to go through? To read about how they basically lived in fear…hungry and alone, except for the two of them. And I absolutely love the character of Carey. Against all odds, she fights to the bone and would do anything for her little sister. She was courageous when she needed to be, on the inside and out… She put her sister before herself and ensure that Janessa wasn’t suffering as bad as she was. I wanted to reach into this book and hug the living crap out of these girls, and shake the hand of a strong young woman who went above and beyond what was expected of her. And omg the father/daughter moments. I couldn’t handle it! I was sobbing and weeping for Carey and her father, and the life that they missed with each other…which only made me hate and despise the mother even more. See! Emotional rollercoaster ride. I recommend this read to fans who want to enjoy a contemporary read that will absolutely embed itself into your very being. This is one read that readers everywhere will remember.
Carey has lived in the forest with her sister Nessa, almost as long as she can remember, ever since her mother ran away from her abusive father. They live in an old camper with no running water, electricity and very little food. Carey is able to hunt squirrels and rabbits, in order for her and Nessa to have enough food. Their mother spends most of her time in town trying to score her next meth hit. Things aren’t great for them, but at least Nessa and Carey have each other. One day, after their mom has been gone for almost 2 months, Carey’s dad shows up and wants to take her home. Carey was an amazing character – she took an awful situation and made it bearable. She was also kind of a paradox – mature far beyond her years in the forest, but when she was in the real world, she was naïve and innocent. She was a fierce mother-figure to Nessa, and saved her life in more ways than one. Nessa (also too mature for her age) was very lucky to have her. I can’t say much about the other characters without revealing too much of the plot, but I will say they were all very believable and authentic. And also, their mother rivals Nikki’s for the Worst Mother of the Decade award. Yikes. The writing was fantastic. The scenes were so vibrant, from the broken down camper to the forest to the farm, I could picture every little detail. Even the farm dog was described in a way that made it easy for me to picture is strolling down a dirt lane, or chasing a truck. The plot was a sad one, to be sure. The girls had lived such horrific lives, but once they were out in the world with clothes and electricity and all the food they could handle, Carey still wanted to be back in the forest, the only home she could remember. But as she learned to trust people and accept her mother for the douche canoe she truly was, her growth was practically measurable. She had to learn all about television and phones and even how to talk to other people. This was sometimes a hard book to read, the things that Carey and Nessa went through were awful. I wanted to hug them or slap someone or just make it all better. But it was also hopeful and sweet and heartfelt. The sum up: This is a hard one to read, but it’s worth it.