Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Wrong Way Home, by Kate O'Shaughnessy

Life on the Ranch, a remote community in upstate New York, is simple but predictable.  Living off the grid, eating only natural foods, and shunning contact with the outside world has giving Fern a stable life, but one that has left her ignorant.  And having spent over half her life there, the Ranch is pretty much all she knows.  So, when her mother hustles her out of the compound in the middle of the night and takes her across the country to the California coast, Fern is traumatized.  She loves her mother, but she loves the Ranch (and its leader Dr Ben) just as much.  And while Mom tries to acclimate her to the new life, Fern desparately wants to go back "home."

While Fern figures out how she is going to get back to the Ranch, she still has to get by.  Mom enrolls her in school, where she's exposed to a lot of new ideas and to children who have never lived by the ideals that Fern has accepted without question.  The exposure to others start to open her world and, while she is still committed to going back, she begins to question her loyalties.  The quirky people of the seaside village they are living in help her on that path.

A pleasant, well-written, and well-paced story that uses breaking free of a cult as a metaphor of the passage to adulthood.  This is a gentle middle-school variant of the theme and while some bad things (kidnapping, murder, and rape) are implied, nothing explicit is mentioned.  The result is a safe, mildly suspenseful story. Unremarkable, but enjoyable.

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