My mother made a snap decision.
How could we know it would change us forever?
'Brimming with curiosity and wonder.' Irish Times
'Lushly atmospheric.' Daily Mail
'Thoroughly gripping.' Lucy Caldwell
'Brilliant.' Sara Baume
Rage. That's the feeling engulfing the car as Ellen's mother swerves over to the hard-shoulder and orders her daughter out onto the roadside. Ignoring the protests of her other children, she accelerates away, leaving Ellen standing on the gravel verge in her school pinafore and knee socks as the light fades.
What would you do as you watch your little sister getting smaller in the rear view window? How far would you be willing to go to help her? The Gallagher children are going to find out. This moment is the beginning of a summer that will change everything.
An Irish American family unravels in Mannion's atmospheric if overstuffed debut, set in rural Valley Forge, Pa., in the early 1980s. A fight among pensive 15-year-old narrator Libby Gallagher's four siblings escalates on the long drive home from school at the mention of their estranged father's recent death, leading their mother to order 12-year-old Ellen out of the car. Ellen walks for miles along the desolate highway, and when she returns in the middle of the night, dirt and blood smeared across her face, she tells Libby she'd hitched a ride from a "creepy" man and jumped out of the moving car after he molested her. Soon, a friend assembles a gang to hunt down and beat Ellen's attacker, whom Ellen calls Barbie Man for his long white hair. But Ellen had told Barbie Man where she lives, and Libby fears he might come for them. Meanwhile, amid nostalgic memories of their father and a series of unremarkable high school coming-of-age scenes, moments of the girls' discomfort and scenes of sexual abuse give the book a prevailing sense of foreboding around other adult men. The novel builds suspense with additional sightings of Barbie Man, but it culminates in an implausible denouement with too many questions left unanswered. Mannion writes skillfully but fails to unify a hodgepodge plot. This review has been updated.
American with Irish roots (Father from County Sligo). Sixth of 8 children. Born and raised in Philadelphia. Studied English in Tennessee then returned to Philly for her Masters at Temple Uni. Moved to County Sligo in the 1990s and has lived and taught there ever since. This is her first novel.
Single Mom and her five kids (aged 18 down to 7) live in a forested hillside house adjacent to Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania. (During the American Revolution, it was one of the winter encampments of George Washington's Continental Army.) Mom, who is poorly suited to mothering, was estranged from the Irish father of the four oldest kids for some time prior to his death a year earlier. Kid number 5 has a different Dad, whom number 1 to 4 have never met. It's the last day of school. Sick of the bickering in the car on the way home, Mom tosses the 12 year old girl out to find her own way home. She hitches a ride from a dodgy dude, escapes by jumping from the moving vehicle, and eventually finds her way back to where her 15 year-old sister is babysitting. The other kids take care of her and keep it secret from Mom. Local bad boy vows to, and does, teach dodgy dude a lesson, which becomes a central motif in a coming of age summer narrated by the 15-year-old sister.
Character driven narrative with themes of family, belonging, resilience, yada, yada. Pity the narrator was the least interesting character. The prose felt to me like creative writing school boilerplate at times. (Bitchy, eh?)
Failed to capitalise on a strong and suspenseful opening.