Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown; Tricyle Press, an imprint of Ten Speed Press; Publication Date September 2006
The Plot: Sometimes, it's a parent who runs away. Rachel's mother is packing up and leaving her family. Rachel and her father, "the rock", are left behind to try to build a life and a relationship. Told in verse.
The Good: HTR is about a child's worst nightmare: the loss of Mommy. Rachel's mother has committed the ultimate sin: abandoned her child. Her baby. When Rachel's mother leaves, she leaves completely; this is not about adjusting to life split between two parents, this is about adjusting to life without a parent. Each section of the book is timed from the world shattering moment that Mom drives away, leaving behind her child and leaving behind being a mother. The Last Day; Three Months Minus Mom.
Amazingly, STB manages to create a Mom who isn't a monster. The sympathy (or perhaps more accurate, the pity) for the mother is never explict; it's in a phrase here, a fact revelaed there. It's something that some child-readers may not pick up on, which is fine. Some things are meant to be read, to simmer inside, to not be understood until later. Here, it's the reasons for Mom leaving. (More on this at the bottom of this review).
This is a painful read, but at the same time, a hopeful read. (Yeah, some people think it's silly to make a big deal of hope. Me, I like a book that doesn't make me ask where the razor blade is). It's hopeful because, despite what is done to Rachel, she, along with her father, are not defined by the abandonment. They change, they adjust, and they gradually build a new life and a new relationship. Is it better than before? It's different than before. And that is a hopeful message: that while the world has changed from the one you know, and you can never return to that world where you always knew the sun would shine, this new world... well, it has some good points. It's not a bad place; it's a different place. And it's not something that happens easily, or overnight. And the hope here is realistic; it's happiness and contentment found in the little things, like watching stars in a summer sky.
Rachel's father is the "rock"; at first the "rock" because of his inability to connect or express emotion; later, he becomes the rock that Rachel can rely on, a foundation to build her new life.
From the first, the poetry hurts because it rings true. There is the loss, the child's loss of security, the harsh knowledge that it's a lie that parents will always be there, that Moms are always nurturing and Dads are always protecting.
No RoomLinks: Susan Taylor Brown's MySpace; the Cynsations interview.
When my mother decides to run away from home
she packs up her
with all the things that matter most
and some books
all her CDs
music box from the fireplace mantle
And the quilt from the bed she shares
By the time she's done
There's no room left for
No room left for Dad.
And no room left for me.
Stop reading now if you hate any spoilage.
Here it is: why Mom left. Mom is mentally ill; it turns out she has been hospitalized, she is on medication, but she is having a difficult time taking care of herself, let alone someone else. But there's something more here; Mom never wanted to be a mother.
How Mom got pregnant
and didn't want to keep the baby
How they fought
and he convinced her not to get rid of it.
While this is a horrible thing for a child to learn, I couldn't help but think of Rachel's mom. She didn't know she was ill then; but she had dreams of being a musician, dreams about what she wanted from her life, and instead of pursing her dreams, she was forced into a role of wife and mother, roles she didn't want. It doesn't change that Rachel's mom is self centered and selfish; we also learn that she begins to call Rachel periodically because that's the only way she'll get money from Rachel's father. But she never wanted to be a mom; so can she be condemned for not being one?