Summary + Review
I feel a little weird about My Abandonment being only my second review on this site; it’s an odd pick. It’s an adult book, and not one I would necessarily jump to buy for my secondary class library. In a grad class, I’m supposed to read a couple of adult fiction novels that may have appeal to teens, and Rock’s novel was an Alex Award winner.
Secondly, I’m pretty sure my interpretation of the book is not totally…correct. Rock is very vague and ambiguous about the characters’ background and motivations. The book is told in first person point of view by thirteen-year-old Caroline. This character is naive to the point of being an unreliable narrator. Plus, readers get a growing sense that she has probably been brainwashed by her dad, the other focal character in the book. Thus it’s a little confusing, but without feeling like it’s confusing. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you that this would not be my most clear review ever!)
Caroline and her dad, whom she refers to as “Father,” are homeless, and at the beginning of the book at least, this seems to be by choice. They live in a cave within a public park. As strange as this lifestyle is, they seem to do okay. They are self-sufficient, and Father teaches Caroline subjects she’d be studying if she was enrolled in school. But readers can’t ignore the creepy, underlying vibe: Father’s constant reminders to Caroline to not “get caught”; Father’s night terrors; Caroline and Father sharing a sleeping bag (probably out of necessity, but still); Caroline’s meek nature compared to her very controlling dad.
The worries about getting caught are justified when Caroline and her dad are taken into custody after Caroline, then their cave, are spotted by a jogger. After several days of being held at some sort of detention center, local authorities decide to set Father up with a job on a ranch and a home on the rancher’s property. Father’s paranoia does not end, though, which leaves readers wondering if he will uproot the two again. Why is Father so worried about people “watching them,” as he complains often to Caroline? Will Caroline ever break free from her dad’s control over her?
Even by the end, I had more questions than answers.
Issues of PTSD are hinted at, and it is mentioned that Caroline had lived with a foster family at one time. The foster family issue is especially unsettling, as Caroline recalls Father luring her away from home. So more questions arise: Why was Caroline was with a foster family in the first place? Is Father truly her father?
Father’s demise late in the book is disturbing, too. What the heck was wrong with Susan and Paul? What were the circumstances of the electrocution?
I wasn’t exactly satisfied with the conclusion but overall I enjoyed this book. The fun in reading My Abandonment was trying to figure out the truth in Caroline’s view of reality; I just wish Rock would have unveiled a little more by the end.
Rock’s writing style is simplistic, but this actually makes for a more difficult reading experience. Caroline is so innocent and gullible that it is difficult to fully grasp everything that goes on in the plot.
I can’t recall anything that is downright inappropriate, but this book requires a mature reader. The bond between Caroline and her father is unhealthy, but no actual abuse is described, or really even implied (although some readers may jump to this conclusion). There is occasional profanity, which is really just used by one character who appears briefly in the story. Rock does include some pretty graphic violence, so be prepared for that.
-Unreliable narrator. Man, do I love a good unreliable narrator novel. Seriously, can’t get enough. Caroline is very naive and has basically been brainwashed by her dad. Thus, unreliable.
-Studying setting. Setting is important in My Abandonment, and students could definitely study what Rock has chosen to describe – and what he hasn’t. Both tell you a lot about what he has deemed important.
-Symbolism. Digging around for symbols in contemporary lit makes me nervous. (That’s right, a real life English teacher did just admit to that!) But I think one could argue that some of the characters and objects are representative of ideas. The wild recluse that Caroline sometimes sees in the park, Nameless, helps show the extreme side of being “one with nature.” Caroline’s toy horse could stand for comfort and well-being (as all kids’ toys do anyway), especially the fact that it is an acupuncture model.
Peter Rock based this novel on a true story:
An article written about the news story: http://www.pdxcityclub.org/sites/default/files/news_clipping/2010.10.27%20Forest%20Park%20Cresswell%20Chronicle.pdf
I think My Abandonment would be enjoyed by more mature readers who don’t mind reading without having all the information or answers. Those who enjoy a well-described, strongly built setting will get a good dose from Rock’s novel. The pace is uneven which may frustrate some readers.