Seventeen-year-old Margot Nielsen lives with one crazy mother in a sparsely-furnished upstairs apartment over an abandoned storefront in tiny Calhoun, Nebraska. Life is dreary. She has no friends and her relationship with her mother is fraught with emotional booby-traps that keep her constantly unbalanced as she tries to figure out how best to act around her to avoid conflict or abuse. Her mom has her constantly burning a candle day in, day out at home, telling her, “Keep a fire burning; a fire is what saves you.” This is craziness she doesn’t understand and her mother never explains, but it’s easier to do what is asked than face the consequences of disobeying her mom.
Wearying of her mother’s erratic, irrational behavior, Margot plots an escape, stuffing money away under her mattress whenever possible and looking for clues to her family history. Because they are always strapped for cash (Margot’s mom Josephine works as a phone receptionist and general dogsbody at the local funeral home), their belongings are constantly being recycled through the local pawn shop. One summer day when Margot is feeling especially unhappy, she wanders over to the pawn shop to see what items she can redeem to take back to her mom and perhaps get her in a more agreeable state of mind. Pawing through the boxes of stuff kept in the back of the shop, she stumbles across a box containing baby items and a Bible from Jo’s earlier life. In the Bible she finds a photograph that gives her a clue about how to find her family connection in Phalene, a small town some three hours away. After a confrontation with her mom, she hitchhikes a ride to Phalene and heads off to the Nielsen family estate, Fairhaven, where she is welcomed by her grandmother. There she makes some mighty wild and hair-raising discoveries that force her to reexamine and readjust her relationships with both her grandmother and her mom.
This is quite the original story and will surely keep any YA reader engrossed until the very end. There is significant violence at the close and the usual offensive language. The strength of the book is found in Margot’s handling of her relationships with her mom and grandmother and the maturity she evinces as she learns the truth about her birth and her heritage.
Categories: Crime, Depression, Dysfunctional Relationships, Fantasy, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Mysteries, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Science Fiction, Supernatural/Occult, Violence