When life is out of control, humans have a remarkable way of crafting order from the chaos. Adrenaline can be a remarkable help, but even the strongest people hit their limits eventually. For these people, often it can be beneficial to observe others in similar situations in order to find the space and freedom to take a step back.
Just a Girl in the Whirl by Annie Wood is a beautifully crafted novel about a young girl who, instead of embracing a typical teenager lifestyle, is the primary caretaker for her two younger sisters and her mentally ill mother. The sudden departure of her father two years previously broke their family, and Lauren must do all she can to put the disparate pieces back together. Though she is desperate to put her writing skills to the test at a nearby writer’s retreat, she resists submitting her application because of the ongoing needs of her family. When her father unexpectedly returns claiming a year of sobriety, things begin to change for Lauren, and she finds herself on the turbulent path of change. Please see my full review here.
I loved the elegant presentation of this heartfelt story. As Lauren is a writer herself, poems are interspersed throughout the narrative, sometimes echoing E.E. Cummings and other times appearing in free verse. These inclusions help Lauren navigate her complex emotions when she feels unable to let go of her strong outward demeanor. Familiar teenager challenges of sex, alcohol, and self-discovery appear in this story, along with the additional complexities of a broken family, mental illness, and a transgender character. Lauren’s transitional arc in this story is compelling to witness, and readers will often find themselves chuckling at the commentary taking place in the privacy of Lauren’s own mind.
This well-crafted story is one that will stay with readers long after the last page is turned. Young adult and adult readers alike will connect with Lauren’s emotions as she works as the gardener for everyone else’s lives. As she so poignantly states early in the narrative, even gardeners need the care and attention the plants they cultivate require, and she struggles to find this affection for herself within the story. As she grows and matures, so too do the people around her and the ultimate resolution is one that will have readers cheering. I highly recommend this beautiful story.
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