cover image My Absolute Darling

My Absolute Darling

Gabriel Tallent. Riverhead, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1117-9

Room meets Rambo in this emotionally fraught first novel. Fourteen-year old Julia “Turtle” Alveston is growing up in Northern California, near Mendocino, under the overprotective eye of her abusive father, Martin, who, for all intents and purposes treats her like they live in a two-person survivalist camp—he teaches her how to shoot and hunt in the wild, and abuses and sexually molests her. Even though she goes to school, Turtle feels cut off from her fellow middle-school students until the day she meets Jacob, a high school student whose sudden appearance in her life forces her to question for the first time the way she’s being raised. Martin adds a new member to the family, which forces Turtle to make a bold move to keep his history of abuse from repeating itself, leading to a suspenseful and bloody climax at a teenage house party. In Turtle, Tallent has crafted a resourceful and resilient character. Unfortunately, Martin is such an obvious psycho creep that readers will wonder why the characters he interacts with—Turtle’s teachers, a friend from the old days—don’t see through him. Jacob, too, in the dialogue the author puts in his mouth, doesn’t sound like a real teenager. In the end, though, Turtle’s story is harrowingly visceral. (Aug.)