This past weekend, I finished reading Karen Brown’s The Longings of Wayward Girls. It’s being published on July 2nd (as of now) by Washington Square Press, and I was lucky enough to snag an Advanced Reader’s Copy from my instructor, who happens to be kind of a big deal over at Atria Books, of which Washington Square Press is an imprint (she is the president/founder). It took me a little while to get into it, but when I finally did, I couldn’t put it down. The story revolves around the main character Sadie, taking on the perspectives of her both as an adult and an adolescent, with the promise that there is something dark looming over adult-Sadie from her past.
As an adolescent, Sadie grows up in a small community (the same one that she settles into as a wife and mother). Her mother is an actress with lots of expensive clothes, some of which have been forgotten and live in the basement, used by Sadie and her friends in their child games. They play house, turning the basement into another world, and walk outside in the woods – of which they are forbidden to go – dragging the hems of the dresses in the leaves and dirt, and sometimes in the water by the pond. A few years prior, a young girl had walked through the woods on her way home from playing at a friend’s house and disappeared, never to be found; a girl who looked like Sadie’s identical twin, if she had had one. The missing girl becomes a backdrop throughout her childhood and young adult life, as Sadie is constantly being mistaken for her.
As an adult, Sadie is mother to two children (a boy and a girl), and has just lost a third (stillborn). Most of the novel takes place during the summer, where Sadie and other mothers in the town spend the days lounging by a pond, however, at the beginning Sadie is left at home with the empty nursery while her husband is at work and her kids are at school. Sadie unexpectedly runs into a childhood crush and, against her better judgment starts an affair with him that, not only could change the course of her entire life, but also sheds light on events from her past, including a secret that she had long since thought she had buried.
The Longings of Wayward Girls can be viewed as a coming of age story, where innocence is not only lost once, but twice. The first time it happens is when Sadie is young, as when it happens with all of us, then again when Sadie is an adult finding out about things from the past, things that will forever change her views and opinions of people she had grown up with. I think that the way Brown tells the story, by alternating adult-Sadie with the adolescent one, the reader gets to know the character on a much deeper level than the “norm,” seeing Sadie’s childhood behavior carried on into her adult life, how some things haven’t changed, but also seeing how the character has ultimately grown.
I must admit, I was a bit skeptical at first as to the looming darkness that the novel promises, but with its unexpected twists and revelations, Brown delivers. I promise you will not be disappointed. There is much more to this story then I have let on, but with the publication date still months away, I couldn’t spoil it for you, could I?