BOOK: My Abandonment by Peter Rock (2009)

The narrator of this moving, original novel, thirteen year-old Caroline, lives with her father in a cave in an enormous nature preserve in Portland, Oregon.  At first, we think it’s just because they’re poor and have lost their home temporarily — sadly not an uncommon story these days — but the more we get to know “Father” through his daughter’s eyes, the more we come to realize the problems go much deeper for this family.  Father is obviously mentally ill — with what I’m armchair-diagnosing as worsening paranoid schizophrenia.  Though Caroline has no clue as to the extent of her father’s differences from others, she does seem aware of the fact he’s slightly “off” and in need of her care.

Father has carefully trained Caroline to become masterful at hiding any sign of either of them in the park.  They’ve been in their cave long enough to feel it’s home, and have even crafted a hidden garden and a small library of books rescued from dumpsters, including a partial set of encyclopedias Caroline is reading through in alphabetical order — in lieu of going to school (long a dream of hers).

Their life is difficult, but they’re happy as long as they’re together.  Until one day, when Caroline relaxes just a little too much and is spotted by a jogger in the park who turns out to be a spy of sorts from social services, sent to do some recon on rumors of a family living in the trees.

The next day, the authorities show up and take both Father and Caroline to a secured building of some sort — not jail, but sort of like jail (Caroline doesn’t know what it is, so neither do we).  There, they’re kept separated while the system tries to determine if it’s safe for Caroline to go back to her dad.  The process takes a few weeks, and in the meantime, Caroline gets a taste of a more-normal life, attending school and even making some of her first friends ever.

But her life is uprooted again when the courts decide the family can be reunited.  The system finds Father a job working on a local farm and sets him and Caroline up in a small, one-room shack on the farm property.  Back together at last, and able to continue attending school, Caroline is over the moon about her new situation.  But though Father makes a real effort to try to work the job and live in the house — to be “normal” for his daughter’s sake — his paranoia creeps back in and one night a few weeks later, he packs up their stuff and tells Caroline they have to run for their lives.

What happens from there is at once heartbreaking and hope-inducing.  Just how that plays out, I’ll leave for you to discover.  And discover it you should!  This novel is wonderfully written, with Caroline’s voice — a powerful, realistic mix of precociousness and naiveté — pulling the reader deep into her world.  Though I confess I was kind of unhappy with the ending (I suppose more for Caroline’s sake than my own), overall I really enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to reading more by Peter Rock in the coming months (this is his fifth novel, I gather, so there’s plenty more where it came from!).

Recommended!

[FICTION]

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