“There are two things I am afraid of. One is dying young. The other is Johnny Monroe.”
This begins the story of Wildflower, who lives in the mountains of Katy’s Ridge, Tennessee in 1941. Still adjusting to the death of her beloved father just a year ago, she must also cope with the change in her relationship with her mother, who has become distant and resentful towards her daughter.
Wildflower, who narrates this story, reveals how she got her nickname, and also explains her secret sense. She also effectively captures not only the people and the ways of the community, but her life and dreams as an almost- thirteen-year-old-girl family. Wildflower reveals who Johnny is and shares her fears and nightmares in this lyrical and haunting coming-of-age story.
The voice of the protagonist shines through a rich, full-embodied narrative, which uncovers layer after layer of the characters and the story. Wildflower’s voice is clear, sensitive and deeply affecting in her honesty and simplicity as she describes how much she loves and misses her father and how his death has changed her: “I get scared by things that never used to scare me. It’s as if my courage got buried along with Daddy.” In her struggles to maintain a relationship with her mother, Wildflower guiltily confesses: “My deepest, darkest, secret wish: that Mama had died instead of him.”
Author Susan Gabriel effectively conveys details of the time and place, the people in the community and Wildflower’s close-knit family through Wildflower’s observations of life around her that moves from a macro observation of the people around her down to the micro awareness and observation, as in her fingertip-electricity “secret sense”. The vivid descriptions bring the characters to life:
“Preacher clutches a worn, black Bible and bellows out the 23rd Psalm like we are all deaf or half-wits. Sweat forms in large half-moon circles under his arms. Droplets dance on his wide forehead as if the fires of hell are nipping at his dusty black shoes.”
The descriptions are also extremely telling and stirring:
“. . . the outhouse door opens with a loud squeak and Johnny steps out. He pulls up his pants and smells his fingers.”
In this the story about a young girl who must grow up faster than her time and make peace with several factors; there is also mystery and drama along with the palpable female protagonist and soulful narrative to keep the reader emotionally charged and invested.
THE SECRET SENSE OF WILDFLOWER is eloquent and moving tale chock-filled with themes of inner strength, family and love that will resonate with teenagers and young adults, alike.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader