Wednesday, May 9, 2018

My Name is Venus Black - Heather Lloyd

Summary: In this stirring, life-affirming debut novel, a young woman must reconcile her past with its far-reaching consequences on her quest for redemption.

I think about this a lot lately, trying to figure out how I got here. I trace my life back in time, looking for all those places in the past where, if I could change one key detail, I would never have seen what I saw or done what I did that terrible February night 

Venus Black is a straitlaced, straight-A student obsessed with the phenomena of astronomy—until the night she commits a shocking crime that tears her family apart and ignites a media firestorm. Venus refuses to talk about what happened or why, except to blame her mother. Adding to the mystery, Venus’s developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo, suddenly goes missing.

Five years later, Venus emerges from prison with a suitcase of used clothes, a fake identity, and a determination to escape her painful past. Estranged from her mother, and with her brother still missing, she sets out to make a fresh start, skittish and alone. But as new people enter her orbit—including a romantic interest and a young girl who seems like a mirror image of her former lost self—old wounds resurface, and Venus realizes that she can’t find a future while she’s running from her past.

In this gripping story, debut novelist Heather Lloyd brilliantly captures ordinary lives upended by extraordinary circumstances. Told through a constellation of captivating voices, My Name Is Venus Black explores the fluidity of right and wrong, the meaning of love and family, and the nature of forgiveness. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Right away this book is captivating—a teen who commits a murder (and she admits it, which is refreshing and different)—but little else is known about what happened that fateful night. So we’re going along, and we’re basically just told what Venus wants us to know; and here’s the thing about Venus Black—she’s not really someone who is super likable. She’s closed off, she’s evasive, she’s not very friendly or approachable, and she’s basically someone who acts like their entire life was ripped away and she was forced to be raised in a prison. She felt very authentic in this way, actually. I used to work at a place where I would be in contact daily with people who had come from prison, and Venus felt real in that way. Also, because of her evasiveness and unwillingness to trust people (even the reader); it made her an unreliable narrator in some ways. This wasn’t always the case, because there are other voices, but I liked the trickiness of this situation.

My Name is Venus Black started out being about Venus Black, and it is, but it is largely about Venus Black’s little brother, Leo. I was actually quite surprised where this led to and what happened in the end, and I don’t want to spoil it so I’m going to leave it at that. Suffice it to say, this is one of those books that will have you feeling one way about the situation, even though your more practical self will not agree with you. For that reason, I think this could be a good book club book. It offers enough discussion topics that I think it could lend to a good book club discussion. It could even get a little heated, but nothing too dramatic. I think that most people would agree they could see both sides. But it would definitely lend itself to conversation.

The writing in this book started out really strong. I liked the voice of Venus, even though I didn’t always love her as a person. As I mentioned, though, that made it feel more real. Let’s face it—who likes absolutely everything about every person? Even ones you love the most? Someone with as much damage and baggage as Venus obviously has some prickly edges, and that made the book feel authentic. In about the middle of the book I felt like the writing and story lost some momentum, but it didn’t take long for that to pick right up and move the book along again. I especially liked the descriptions of Leo and what he was thinking—they also felt very authentic and true to someone with his developmental challenges.

This book didn’t always go how I wanted it to nor do what I wanted it to, but I think that’s okay. Books that go exactly as you choose sometimes feel contrived. Plus, we all know that real life doesn’t always do what you want it to do. Right? Or is that just me?...

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of sex. There is also some sexually predatory behavior by an adult to a minor.

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