Twelve year old Bean and her older sister Liz have been parenting themselves for a long time. Their mother Charlotte is looking for her big break and if that means neglecting her girls, well, she's always left them enough money to be okay until she gets back. But this time, she been gone so long that the neighbors suspect something's up and call the authorities about the abandoned girls. To avoid the police car sitting outside their home, Liz convinces Bean to hop a bus across country to live with family they barely remember. So the girls travel to small Byler, Virginia to their childless, eccentric, and reclusive Uncle Tinsley. Used to fending for themselves, they continue to do so even under Tinsley's roof, with Liz even finding a job at the mill foreman, Jerry Maddox's house. And although the girls would seem to have some sense of self-preservation, they are still young and innocent and unable to recognize the evil in front of them.
Bean, the narrator is a precocious and feisty character who really thrives after the move across country but Liz still carries the weight of the world on her young shoulders. While Liz is trying to build a better life for herself and her sister, Bean is uncovering the truth about her father and finding an extended family eager to embrace and support her. But when a terrible thing happens to Liz in this tiny mill town, the girls' principles and belief in right triumphing over wrong is tested and this test might just shatter the now fragile Liz. This is a heartbreaking coming of age story which makes the reader consider how some people overcome terrible things like neglect and abuse and still manage to open their hearts to life and why others crumble under these same horrors.
A very quick read, it was also fairly predictable. The characters were stock in that none of them besides Bean is much fleshed out and they are common enough to be incredibly similar to the standard dysfunctional family characters in many other novels. There were some provocative suggestions made that were then dropped or ignored (Charlotte's allegation of abuse by her father and Liz's disintegrating mental state) when they could have been threads for a richer story tapestry. But the coping mechanisms that each character used to make it through the day rang true from Bean and Liz to Uncle Tinsley shut up in his decaying manor house avoiding the world. While the story was a little flat overall, it was still a diverting read and it wasn't hard to feel sympathy for the girls and the hard life they lived and to hope that they would find the love and caring they needed to blossom.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.