In Search Of Us

A story exploring identity, race, sex, first love, loss, all entwining into a desperate journey of self discovery….because the missing pieces matter.

Angie glances back at her home disappearing behind them, and then she looks down at the girl in the picture with her dad. The one who must have sped through the night with the windows down and the music loud, inhaling the scent of the sea, the one who must have known the feeling of freedom and air rushing into her lungs, and a new life, about to start. The one who must have known the way that falling in love brings the world closer, as if everything where in reach. At least that’s how Angie imagines it.

Ava Dellaira’s In Search Of Us is gripping from the first sentence; ‘The living are catching up with the dead’ acting as a not so subtle indicator that this novel is not going to be your bog-standard love story.

The plot is complex, following the separate (yet obviously linked) stories of a mother and daughter when they are both 17. In the prologue we meet Angie, her world suddenly turned upside down by the discovery of a photograph. In it is her mother Marilyn, ‘carefree. Young. Full of possibility. Happy’. In the photo beside Marilyn is a grinning boy, whom, despite never having met him, Angie knows to be her father.

Angie’s tale unravels into a search for something lost, not just her father, but a life she never knew…

Marilyn’s story takes place 18 years earlier. She is 17 and desperate to break free. As a result of financial struggles, Marilyn and her mother move into her uncle’s (a gambling alcoholic) house in LA. This is temporary according to Marilyn’s mother, a short terms solution until Marilyn can fulfil her mother’s dream of becoming a famous actress.

The mother daughter relationship established between Marilyn and Sylvie is tricky; issues of emotional abuse and dependence a necessary and teachable theme in YA, especially when it is done right. Having to battle between pleasing her mother and pleasing herself, Marilyn walks a tight line, one step wrong and the whole dynamic falls apart.

But Marilyn has wants. She has drive. She has a passion. A dream.

She doesn’t want the Hollywood lifestyle. Quite simply, she wants to go to college, to better herself and create a career out of doing something she loves. This quality is what makes her the perfect heroine for a young, female reader. Her aspirations are admirable and inform readers that, despite what your parents want, you can only live for yourself.

So she has 1 year. 1 year to put up with her mother’s deluded vision. 1 year to live with her arsehole uncle. 1 year till she’s she.

Then she meets James.

What unfolds is a charming and emotional story of first love, desire and passion. Albeit, Dellaira handles romance in a slightly cliche manner, this is to be expected of a YA novel, and certainly wouldn’t hinder older readers (if this is the style you enjoy reading). Similarly, the inclusion of sexual exploration, and the consequences that this entails is essential. It teaches young women that it is okay to take part in self pleasure and to feel desire. It also teaches the importance of protection. There is a stigma that the inclusion of sex in a YA novel is inappropriate, that it can only be alluded to, however, a balance of suggestion and explicit description is just fine, in fact, it helps young women build a healthy image of sex and relationships.

Another important subject in the novel is racism. James, is black. Marilyn is white. The novel successfully and sensitivity highlights the issues surrounding this time of relationship in the 90s. Fast forward 18 years and we have Angie, a black girl who barely looks like her white mother and has no knowledge of her heritage on her father’s side. She feels like she doesn’t fit in, like a piece of her is missing…

Angie needs to know about her father, about her family that she never knew about, but every time she asks Marilyn how her father died, her mother breaks down in tears. She builds a fragmented image of James, the music he liked, the places he went, the food he liked, but nothing concrete. The photo of her parents spurs a desperate longing inside her, a longing to discover who she really is (whether or not Marilyn is willing to slot the pieces together).

Photography and music act as beautiful emblems in the novel; they exude the richest details while also drawing the three main characters together, despite the 18 year difference.

The parallel narrative seemed strange at first, almost as though the two stories were being spread too thin, however, as you get into the flow of the narrative, the breaks are understandable; there needs to be a carefully planned balance, a break from Marilyn’s voice to fully understand Angie’s motivations. It is also a clever way to hold information back, giving the author power to slowly reveal secrets. When revealing a secret, Dellaira does so with subtlety and class, it takes careful reading at times to understand the implications of her words (however, some may argue that this is a necessary quality when handling issues in which the novel encompasses).

Within the stories of the two women there is a real sense of urgency. An excited yet anxious tone which replicates the voice of young women on the cusp of adulthood, all of which make it thouroughly beautiful, believable and enjoyable.

If I’m being honest, Marilyn’s story is the most gripping; unfortunately Angie’s treatment towards Sam (her ex boyfriend) make her character unlikable and so, it is hard to stay invested in her. It is also unfortunate how rushed the ending was; there was too much of a push towards putting a shiny red bow on the whole thing when the narrative was always way too complex for that. There needed to be a little more.

With all that being said, I thought the book was beautiful, engaging and thought provoking. It’s a story that I will definitely be thinking about for a while!

****I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Hot Key Books****

Laura Marie

Copyright: Laura Davis © 2018, all rights reserved.

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