THE LIGHT THROUGH THE LEAVES BY GLENDY VANDERAH, Lake Union Publishing, 2021 –
Here’s a story about one of the more chilling parental nightmares – a baby abduction. Ellis has just seen her husband with another woman. She takes her children to a forested park area where her twins begin fighting and she’s so distraught she drives off, leaving her infant in the parking lot. When she realizes the baby isn’t in the car, she returns to find her daughter gone. Weeks pass and hope fades that the baby will ever be found.
Vanderah captures the mental anguish of Ellis – the overwhelming guilt, the fear that her daughter might be abused and killed. Even if she keeps a tiny ray of hope alive that, however unlikely, whoever took her baby will care for the child, it isn’t enough to keep Ellis
from descending into a morass of guilt, anger, alcohol and drugs that fuel a self-destructive addiction. She gets a divorce, abandons her twins in the care of her husband and the mother-in-law she can’t stand, then heads into the wilderness hoping that in solitude, she might find solace. Endless strings of lonely campsites eventually land her in mortal danger when she’s forced to defend herself against two assailants. Parts of this episode seem somewhat far-fetched, even if it provides the turning point for Ellis in her road to recovery.
Raven is a young girl living with her mama, a woman of mercurial temperament who believes in communing with woodland spirits. Raven is raised believing she is a daughter of the raven spirit. Her chance encounter with three boys close to her age leads to unexpected friendship and a yearning for social connections beyond the confines of her mama’s large forested acreage. It soon places Raven in conflict with her mama’s obsessive desire to keep Raven well away from others.
Both stories unfold on a trajectory to intersect. Ellis overcomes her addiction and settles down while Raven grows older. Mama, fighting a losing battle with her health, gets progressively more permissive in the hopes that Raven will give her another baby. When mama dies, Raven’s world collapses as her true identity is finally discovered.
The first part of the novel is engaging and the characters well developed – capturing on one hand the anguish of Ellis’s loss as well as the perplexities faced by Raven as she grows up with someone suffering from mental illness. The final stages of the book show Vanderah is a keen advocate for happy endings. Some may find this last part of the novel a bit much. Everything turns out so perfectly that it may stretch credulity – especially the remarkably quick adjustment of Raven back into a life as Violet, the abducted girl – even saving one of her brothers from his self-destructive path. Well, an ending that’s in the grand tradition of fairy tales, whether implausible or not, might be acceptable as a surfeit of sweetness – who doesn’t like overindulging with bonbons once in a while?
TL:DR – If you like stories that finish with ‘…and they lived happily ever after…’ this novel is for you.