"At this point, I could believe almost anything. People think a tornado drops down on a cow pasture or a trailer park and everything is fine. They never think about things like infected cuts and broken legs and old ladies crushed by air conditioners in their bathtubs. They never think about orphans." Page 176-177
Can't you feel the happy and positive energy exuding from the words above?
Jersey Cameron, survives an F5 tornado in her small town of Nowhere, Missouri. A great deal of other people in her town didn't; including her mother and sister. As is the norm for Jennifer Brown books what would seem like the climax happens on the first page and where the narrative ends up from there is the unique ride that is reading to the end of one of her novels.
So much of Jersey's identify is communicated so quickly in this leisurely reading three-hundred page book that I was winded after five pages. How's that so, you ask? Because on page one we are told everything in her life gets knocked off the planet by an F5 tornado. If getting five pages in was a rush, the rest of the book was exhausting.
The tornado takes everything about her life and identity away; absolutely everything. (And unless you've survived one of these horrible instances before, be prepared to be overwhelmed and humbled by how much 'everything' encompasses.) After the tornado takes her mother and sister, her house and her town, she watches it take everyone else that had been important in her life away in it's wake. There's no communication. None. There are missing people. Her friends are gone; the boy next door is gone1; her step-father finds himself incapacitated to do the duties of his station and be her parent2.
So she goes to live with her biological father, who she has never met or seen in a picture and things start to get really bad. Like, worse than a tornado bad… It's a bit of a Cinderella story. It's a bit of a coping with PTSD story. And in the oddest way, being a Cinderella PTSD person makes Jersey, and vicariously the reader, appreciate what they had even more, and to a higher degree, what's left. Even as a jaded, bitter "I know what's coming next" reader it's really, really hard to see any positive signs in Jersey's life, and yet as she has absolutely nothing, when she's willing to look it's not hard to find something positive because she's literally got nothing.
She has to start over, and she has to make do, and do the best she can with what's she's got, because as she's constantly reminded; she doesn't have options.
From having read two others, this absolutely felt like a book by Jennifer Brown and I love reading her novels and seeing her develop as a writer. (There were about twenty pages at the end I didn't like, but that was it.) In some ways Torn Away is a book that rehashes some of her old standby staples she always writes about, in other ways it's new and different. One issue I missed that I'm so accustomed to getting from her is how her protagonist deal with relationships. Jersey's story is easily Brown's most intimate of the novels I've read: everything is about, her her her her her. And that's not a bad thing, only I was surprised.
I'd always felt Brown's strongest quality lie in her interaction with characters: volatile Kendra and her mentally ill brother Grayson; guilt soaked Val vs herself, her family, her therapist and the world. Jersey is alone.
This isn't a light-hearted, easy, or fun book to read, nor is it difficult or a chore in anyway. It's sad and not in the 'this author is manipulating my emotions in a cheap way to get an effect' kinda way either. Things get bad and then progressively worse. I don't think Brown does 'happily ever after' endings. More like 'We've been through some shit and there's still more ahead, but I think you got it from here…' It was a very Sara Zarr like book. (How awesome of a thing was that to say?)
I've never once gotten the story I expected from the premises of a Jennifer Brown novel. She is amazing. I thoroughly enjoy her books. I hope I never get what I expect from a Jennifer Brown novel.
2) Ronnie, was easily the most oddly sympathetic character I'd ever come across. Bizarre in every way. Even as he's kicking Jersey out of his life, and she is begging him to let her take care of him she forgives him. It's a character like this that makes me say, "Wow… Brown looked into to how tornados effect people more than even she wanted too…" Ronnie. Wow.