One day Harley Altmyer was 18 and thinking about making some kind of life. He had a family he loved and he figured it was time to get a job. Before he has the chance, his life is a minefield: his father is dead, his mother in prison for the murder, three younger sisters to care for, and there's not too much time left over for himself. Suddenly he has two crummy jobs, a fantasy sex life, big worries about the kids and a court-appointed therapist.
A intense physical relationship with a woman living down the road seems to offer a way out, the answer to his problems. But little can he realise that those problems are only just beginning...
Nineteen-year-old Harley is left to rear his three younger sisters after their mother is imprisoned for murdering their abusive father in this searing, hardscrabble Party of Five set in Pennsylvania mining country. Doubly resentful because his best friend is off at college, Harley spends his days slogging as a Shop Rite bagger and appliance-shop delivery person, coming home to cold cereal dinners prepared by six-year-old Jody. Harley is bitter about having to take over for his mother--"she still had us kids but we didn't have her"--and he can't shake the feeling that she prefers prison to their home life; a mystery lingers around his father's death. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Amber is sleeping her way through the town's teenage boys and flaunting her body in front of Harley; middle sister Misty, once her father's favorite and his hunting companion, practices shooting. Desperate for relief, Harley finds solace in rough but exhilarating encounters with married Callie Mercer, little Jody's best friend's mother, losing his virginity to her on a muddy creek bank and reveling in her sophisticated, sensitive words. But memories are stirring in his subconscious, and erotic dreams of the Virgin Mary metamorphose into nightmarish sexual visions. In his sessions with a court-appointed therapist, Harley edges closer to understanding his family's twisted dynamic, but it is only when the horrors of the present begin to catch up with those of the past that a series of shattering truths are revealed. By then it is too late for Harley to save everyone he loves, but in sacrificing himself, however hopelessly, he introduces a note of grace. O'Dell's scorching tale touches on all the tropes of dysfunctional families, but her characters fight free of stereotypes, taking on an angry, authentic glow.
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Took me months to read this book