At the beginning of "True Places" (Lake Union Publishing) by Sonja Yoerg, Suzanne Blakemore, a mother of two teens, is overwhelmed by the duties so many mothers these days feel they must take on to do the job properly. As the book begins, feeling a strange emptiness tugging at her insides, she does something she's never done: She ignores her phone and the nagging texts and calls from her family and instead takes a turn onto the Blue Ridge Parkway – and just drives.
Suzanne has no goal in mind, no destination – after all she's already lost, metaphorically speaking. She pulls off the road and discovers something that will change her life: a young girl on the side of the road, out of her mind with fever. Suzanne helps the girl into her car and drives her to the hospital. The girl, Iris, turns out to be a teenager much older than her appearance would suggest, and she's been living on her own in the woods for years.
She has no family that anyone can find – her mother died in front of her, and her father abandoned her years ago. Rather than allowing her to go into the foster care system, Suzanne insists on fostering Iris, over the protests of her husband, a real estate developer, her emotionally distant 15-year-old daughter and her own mother, a Charlottesville socialite still married despite her husband's serial philandering.
Iris moves into Suzanne's home and promptly turns everyone's world upside down.
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Sometimes it takes the perspective of an outsider – in the case of "True Places," a true outsider, someone so removed from the world you know – to show you the choices you've been making have been so very wrong.
"True Places" is about family, it's about remembering who you are and making hard choices. For me, a mother who struggles to balance work and the duties of my home, Suzanne's struggles with her own identity struck very close to home. As Yoerg writes, "No one gives in without giving something up, and nothing is given up without cost."
Suzanne's alienation from her teenage daughter is every mother's fear. But in the end, Suzanne figures out a map that will lead her back home, not to the home she has made in the posh neighborhood in Charlottesville, but to the home inside of herself that she lost years before.
There, she's able to find the person that can help care for her daughter and her son, the person who can love her husband honestly and the person who can take care of herself without constantly making sacrifices on the altar of motherhood.
Fast-paced, believable even with its unbelievable premise – the wild girl emerging from the forest – I couldn't put "True Places" down until all of the threads came back together again. Yoerg has created a story that is both gut-wrenching and epiphany-filled and builds layers of emotion, all set against the magnificent backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Get lost in "True Places," and, like the characters, you may just find yourself again.
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