Book Review: Rich Descriptions, Disconnect Between Truth and Fiction Advance Valerie Newman’s Young Adult Title | Lifestyles
Maggie Warshauer, 17, is more than ready to step away from life as she knows it and start fresh in college. Her mother is long gone and her father drinks too much, but he’s all she has for family.
She lives with her father on a houseboat that’s seen better days, helping her run a marina on a large man-made lake on the North Carolina-Virginia line that isn’t called Kerr Lake in this novel but might be. ‘be. “In the Lonely Backwater,” Valerie Nieman’s latest novel, is a coming-of-age story, psychological thriller, gothic mystery, and more.
Maggie doesn’t fit into her high school, at least not into the categories available in rural North Carolina for teenage girls. She looks OK but more solidly built than conventionally pretty. Her friends are a couple of boys, also somewhat misfits, who seem to think of her as just another guy.
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Deep in her heart, she’s not sure about her own sexuality, not that she’s had any experience of it. She sometimes talks about a boyfriend, but no one has ever seen him.
Brilliant girl, Maggie finds refuge in nature and in her active imagination. She is intrigued by the journals of Carl Linnaeus, the famous 18th century biologist and taxonomist, and spends much of her free time observing and categorizing the nature she discovers as she sails her small boat on the lake and walks on small islands and along the shore of the lake. . Often, it also categorizes people.
This passion for classification becomes something of a metaphor as Maggie tries to figure out who she is and where she fits into her world.
This world is turned upside down when Maggie’s cousin, the beautiful Charisse, disappears on prom night and, after a search, is found dead at the marina where Maggie lives with her father.
The detective working the case suspects Maggie, at least, is keeping secrets. She and her friends didn’t go to the prom, but they admit they saw Charisse later, after she ditched her date, while they were hanging out in an old church graveyard.
As time goes on, things get even more complicated as a mysterious person seems to be stalking Maggie.
What is reality, what is memory and what is imagination? Does anyone tell a story, and what is the truth in that story? As Maggie tells this story, it becomes increasingly apparent that she is somewhat of an unreliable narrator – in terms of what she tells herself as well as what she tells readers. Yet, ultimately, there are truths and even wisdom in the story.
If you care about the labels attached to novels, Valerie Nieman’s intriguing new book is classified as “young adult.” It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been in that demographic, but I found “In the Lonely Backwater” to be a beautifully written story that captured my imagination. Rich descriptions of nature, seen through Maggie’s discerning eyes, add an extra layer. The same goes for the shifting balance between truth and fiction.
Linda Carter Brinson writes a book blog, Briar Patch Books, at http://lindabrinson.com.