A Review of Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer
Fiction Studio Books, 2012
by REBECCA, April 8, 2013
Apron Bramhall: insightful, and honest, in the aftermath of her mother’s death, her quirkiness is making her life harder
Dad: Latin professor who cares about Apron, but is desperate to please M, his new girlfriend
Mike: the nephew of Apron’s neighbor and owner of a local flower shop, Mike plays Jesus in a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar and is so kind that Apron wonders if he and Jesus are actually related
Chad: Mike’s boyfriend, who immediately connects with Apron and her problems, but has problems of his own
It’s Maine in the summer of 1985 and thirteen-year-old Apron Bramhall’s heart is broken. Her mother died; her father is living with M, the nurse who cared for her mother and hates Apron; her best friend Rennie dumped her to hang out with popular Jenny; and it’s almost summer, so she’ll have nothing but time to think about how love just seems to cost too much to be worth it. Enter Mike and Chad, who recognize a kindred spirit in Apron and give her a job working at their flower shop over the summer. But the job turns into a deep connection with Mike and Chad, who are dealing with their own heartbreaks.
I entered the world of Girl Unmoored, the debut novel by Jennifer Gooch Hummer, with no expectations whatsoever and only the vaguest sense of what the book was about, and I’m glad I did. Girl Unmoored sees the world through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Apron, whose combination of insight and naiveté result in a wonderful and poignant voice. Apron’s life has sucked lately, and really all she wants to do is play with her guinea pig, The Boss, and read the Little House on the Prairie books.
“I had read every book in the series by the time I was eight, and a hundred times over since then. I have to sneak them now, though, otherwise my dad says, ‘Aren’t we a little past those, Apron? I mean really. How about some Moby-Dick?’ But the truth was that Laura Ingalls Wilder was the nicest girl I’ve ever not known. Rennie would throw me under a bus for a piece of chocolate.”
It’s Apron’s voice that is the real gem of Girl Unmoored: “Being this close to Mike made the cramp in my heart loosen up a bit, like little shingles were falling off of it.” For the first third of the book or so, Apron’s unique perspective is engaging and revelatory, and the tone is light, even with Apron’s troubles. As the book continues, though, shit gets pretty serious: Apron’s dad’s benign neglect ceases to feel benign, M’s passive distaste for Apron gets pretty active, and the mysterious disease from which Chad is suffering (mysterious to Apron, not to the reader) turns harrowing. Jennifer Gooch Hummer writes with a light hand that allows for this subtle shift from a summery, quirky tale of a small town to a truly heartbreaking story of a girl who has to figure out how to grow up and how to love without a traditional support system.
Girl Unmoored is a pretty quiet book, plot-wise, and that’s what makes it so powerful. Hummer is masterful at excavating the emotional core of every situation and achieves a subtle and deep vision of what is going on around Apron that she is aware of but cannot totally understand. The tone is pitch perfect and the characters layered and sympathetic. Despite the sunniness and charm of the setting, Girl Unmoored’s worldview is a realistically grim one: everyone has it rough and everyone is selfish and everyone wants someone to save them but knows that no one will. But that, Apron seems to decide by the end, may be the price of love: that you bear the burden of remembering it, in all its exaltation and all its grief, even after the ones you love are gone.
“I looked back at all those people I didn’t know and thought about how small your heart is but how big of a space it takes up. And how, even though you can’t see it, that heart space grows so quietly across a room or up some stairs in someone else’s living room, that even if you never step foot in it again, the air in there is changed forever.”
Girl Unmoored is like a cold glass of lemonade in the summer, the sourness of heartbreak sweetened by beautiful prose making it impossible not to gulp it down, and impossible not to feel the sting. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry; you’ll pour yourself another glass. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (2012). As you may remember, Tell the Wolves I’m Home was my favorite book of last year. Tell the Wolves I’m Home and Girl Unmoored share a time period and a basic plot, but are incredibly different in tone. If the former is a cold, desolate New York January, then the latter is a hot, claustrophobic, coastal July. If you like one, though, chances are you’ll like the other, and both are wonderful. You can read my complete review of Tell the Wolves I’m Home HERE, and an interview with the lovely Carol Rifka Brunt HERE.
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston (2010). Like Apron, Loa has just suffered a death in the family and, like Apron, Loa observes things that others overlook. Though Loa is older, they share a dark and poetic view of the world that they express matter-of-factly. You can read Tessa’s complete review of The Freak Observer HERE.
procured from: I received an ARC of Girl Unmoored from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer is available now.