I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
This book was a real surprise to me. It is not your average coming-of-age story. The book begins with sisters Marnie and her younger sister Nelly burying their parents in the backyard. We don't find out until later what happened to their parents. Marnie is on the verge of turning 16 and will soon be considered a legal adult and able to care for her younger sister. (who seems to have some sort of autism-like disability) Until then, the two sisters try to hide the fact that their parents are dead so that they will not be separated. Their next-door neighbor, an elderly gay man labeled as a sex offender, begins to suspect that something is amiss with the two girls next door. Their lives intersect in surprising ways.
This book comes off as a bit macabre as a coming-of-age story but I found it both compelling and effective. The book is filled with lost souls who come together in unexpected ways. Marnie's story is so heartbreaking. She is clearly a good kid in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And help doesn't always come in a traditional form. Nelly, on the other hand, seems oblivious to the world around her and operates on a different plane which makes it even more difficult for Marnie. I loved how the story unfolded and how heartbreaking it was. I found myself caring for characters that seemed so rough on the outside that I probably wouldn't give them a second glance in real life. O'Donnell does a wonderful job of moving us beyond the external characteristics of these people and giving insight into their souls.
I am tagging this as "young adult" novel because I think it may be very appropriate for many young adult readers. However, I must warn you that the book contains sex, drugs and suicide. These are all damaged people trying to make the best of their lives and situations.
BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A very unusual and unexpectedly moving story about a young girl thrust into adulthood before her time.