I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong…
As Ma and Alex make their way from Virginia to California, each new state prompts stories and secrets of a life before Alex. Together they put to rest unsettled scores, heal old wounds, and search out lost friends. But Alex can’t forget the life they’ve left behind.
This is a really beautiful story with relationships and identity at its core. Alex, the narrator, is a complex and incredibly well-drawn character – leaving home in the middle of the night with Ma as the story begins, and embarking on a journey that will explore not only the places they stay during their journey, but Ma’s past and their relationships – with each other, with Alex’s father and with their wider family as a whole.
The book makes the reader think about identity and what makes you who you are. It is about Ma, and her feelings about not belonging, her rootless and disjointed childhood when she was moved from pillar to post; her need to be on the move, held in check while Alex is too young, until she just can’t stay anymore. And it’s also about Alex, and being a teenager, and being confused, and sometimes wanting to fit in, and sometimes wanting to be different – to be you, and for other people to allow that, and to not question it.
On their travels they meet people from Ma’s past, and Alex gradually learns about that past. There are moments of real beauty and honesty here, and this is done without sentiment. The descriptions of the places they travel through, the places they stay – for an hour or for months – are beautifully done, as are the depictions of the people they meet and the people in Ma’s past that Alex learns about.
This is a really different book, with really unusual and complex characters. It’s about coming of age, and about coming to terms with the past, about accepting who you are. Evocative, complex, and moving – I highly recommend it.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.