I came across this title when browsing for some contemporary reading, taking a break from some heavy literature. This is one of those rare times when I didn’t read the spiel at the back of the book to get an idea of what world I was stepping into. It usually takes a good 1/6th of the book for me to get completely absorbed. For this book, few pages into it and I was lost in the marshland in North Carolina.
The reason was simple - simplicity. The author has chosen her simple matter of fact style of writing to draw the landscape for us to step in. At the age of six, the protagonist Catherine aka Kya strongly holds onto the belief that “A Ma don’t leave her kids. It ain’t in ‘em”. Little did she know that soon she will be abandoned by her mother, siblings and father, and be left to fend for herself. Kya at the tender age of seven is left to navigate the world riddled with prejudices, pre conceived notions and judgement. Kay’s story is that of resilience and survival, making the best of the worst of circumstances. Kya is one of my favourite contemporary heroins who makes peace with what life has handed to her and perseveres even in the face of having no hope for the future, just for basic survival.
I am a romantic at heart, so of course when Tate, Kya’s lover is introduced, he has me swooning over him. This is not because he is her knight in shining armour, it’s because he is there when no one else is with Kya - reading her first words, being a friend, seeing her become a woman. He gives her hope of living a life beyond her imagination, making her think anything is possible without overwhelming her. However he is not without flaws. Tate is a complex character who is standing on the edge of the divide between Kya’s world and his own, unable to see how he can amalgamate the two. His unconditional love for Kya speaks volumes when he becomes her teacher, her guide and helps her navigate through the changes happening in and around her. On one hand he sees her innocence and on the other the world where the likes of Kya are unaccepted, and it seems to him to have one, he must give up the other. He is “the coward inside who would not tell her goodbye” and turns his back on her.
Chase is another of Kya’s lovers, who is more of a typical example of someone living by the world’s rules, unable to break the chain of bias, someone who is curious enough to experience the mysterious but not bold enough to own it..
The character building in this book is subtle with simple words that convey the most touching sentiments. You feel Kya’s “lonely life hanging in her kitchen” in the “tiny supply of onions in vegetable basket” or “in the single plate drying in the rack”. When you get to know Kya and the life she has, it makes your heart ache with the injustice she has been served when you read “why should the injured, the still bleeding, bear the onus of forgiveness?”
Her confliction is obvious when Chase playing music was the only time Kya thought “was when he most had a soul”. Not only this gives us the insight into what she is thinking, it’s shows us the weakness of human nature to still want to be loved even if it’s settling for less than we deserve! Humans are as weak as they are strong, as flawed as are magnificent. The real test comes along when the balance tips in favour of one or the other. This story is a perfect portrayal of each individual not being good or bad, everyone has a capacity to be either, it is the choices that we make shows who we are…
This story is a tale of internal struggle to break the norms of society and live with what life throws at us. A story of love, mystery, murder, breaking bounds and acceptance, a tale of justice. It keeps you turning pages right up till the end, just when you stop expecting the unexpected, it pulls you up short!