No one is surprised when Rose Hurst runs away from home. Not her father, who lives life in a perpetual alcoholic fog; not her 12-year-old brother Will, who sees the absence of Rose as just one less distraction from his mother’s attention to him, and certainly not her sister Violet, who hopes to get away from home herself as soon as possible.
The novel is told in the alternating voices of Will and Violet, and it is quickly uncovered that Josephine is a mother whose extremely conditional love is predicated on her children’s ability to live up to her standards, thus reflecting perfectly on her. While Will wakes up every morning with the singular goal of pleasing her, Violet has gone for full-fledged revolt. She has shaved her head, begun to hang out with the free spirits in town (of which her mother definitely does not approve), and is following Sallekhana, a Jain religious ritual wherein one slowly starves herself to death.
Will is the coddled third child suffers from epileptic seizures and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Because his mother considers him too fragile for public school, she is home schooling him — treating him at alternate times as very young boy (giving him baths, laying out his clothes), a peer and confidant, and nearly always as her pride and joy.
With Rose gone and Violet irredeemable, Will must be that perfect child. This is a great choice for a shocking look at how mental illness can affect an entire family, and the nature of resiliency.
Crown/Random House; ISBN 978-0-38534-725-9; $15.