You Are My Only is a gorgeously written YA novel. That’s the first thing I want you to know about it. The second thing is that I couldn’t put it down. I read it in a day, ignoring my children. My older daughter, age 13, curious about my absorption, examined the cover and picked up the book to see what it was all about. That is the beauty of a paper book.
You Are My Only is told from two perspectives in alternating chapters. First there is Sophie, age fourteen, who has had a fugitive life being precipitously moved about by the woman she knows as her mother, who is always in a state of mystifyingly oppressive fear. Then there is Emmy, a young mom whose life and sanity were broken by the abduction of her baby, unnamed, but clearly Sophie.
But Emmy and Sophie both find love and comfort from the kind actions of strangers who enter their lives. Emmy is helped first and last by Arlen, an unprepossessing man, unsuccessful in material goods but large of heart. Her relationship with an anorexic young woman in a psychiatric hospital is also one of tenderness and mutual support.
Sophie finds courage, love, meaning and a way to better her life when she moves next door to a very different made family from the one her “fake mother” (as my daughter M called her) made. Joey, about her age, was adopted by his father’s stepsister and her partner: Helen and Cloris are an artistic, nurturing and accepting couple, strong even in the face of evident sorrow.
This is not a sensationalistic treatment of a subject that could easily be sensationalized and sentimental. I noticed a couple of disappointed reviews on Amazon by readers who expected that sort of treatment. The other reviews, the 5 star ones, loved what I did about this book: the beauty of the language, the tenderness of the characterizations, the love and hope and kindness that come to lift up a life even in dire situations and so to change it forever for good.
A taste (p 1):
My house is a storybook house. A huff-and-a-puff-and-they’ll-blow-it-down house. The roof is soft; it’s tumbled. There are bushes growing tall past the sills. A single sprouted tree leans in from high above the cracked slate path, torpedoing acorns to the ground.
Another (p 36):
He has taken off his jacket and given it to me, laid it across my knees like a blanket. He has kept his arm across my shoulder, and I don’t mind him, not really. I don’t mind how he gives me room to tell my Baby stories, how he lets things be–no questions.
I pre-ordered You Are My Only and it arrived at my house the day after the release date. I read it as soon as I could and I recommend you do too!
My favourite lines (p 235):
“We’re a sight,” I say, and then we’re laughing, as if nothing was ever wrong or ever could be, as if we engineered goodness. As if we have that power.
You see, we do.