In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira

Review published on March 30, 2018.

Seventeen-year-old Marilyn feels trapped. She has grown up as a child actor and model, touted from agent to agent to fulfil her mother’s desire to find fame and fortune, to provide an escape from the poverty which has led them to having to move in with a volatile, disagreeable uncle. All Marilyn wants is to be able to make her own decisions, to go to university and move as far away from the superficial glitter of Hollywood as possible. Then she falls in love with James, the boy downstairs, who shows her that life in the present can also be good. However, she also discovers that nothing stays the same, that life can change in an instant.

Angie is also seventeen and has been lovingly brought up single-handedly by her mother, Marilyn. She is mixed-race and knows little about her father, other than that he had died before she was born. She has felt his absence throughout her life and has always wanted to know more about him; the story her mother has told her doesn’t quite add up and she becomes aware that her mother has lied about the past. When she discovers a photograph, hidden in one of her mother’s drawers, of her mother looking totally in love with a young man, she becomes convinced that this is her father and becomes determined to find out more about her background. A chance discovery leads her to leave home and set off to Los Angeles, in search of someone who may be her unknown uncle, the brother of her father, and maybe she will discover that her father is, after all, still alive. Will her discoveries enable her to finally establish who she is and where she belongs, as well as why her mother has lied to her for so long?

This moving and engaging story is told from two perspectives, Marilyn’s during the late 1990s and Angie’s in the present and explores their parallel quests for identity. These switches in time were handled very well and served to slowly uncover the various events which had led to Angie’s desperate need to establish her own identity. The story explored several disturbing themes, including physical and sexual abuse, racism, addiction and police brutality and I thought that these were dealt with in a sensitive, non-exploitative way, adding a credible depth to the storytelling.

The parallels in the stories of these two characters ran throughout the novel and served to highlight that past, unresolved conflicts are ever-present in the here and now and need to be dealt with in order to enable people to enjoy proper freedom of choice. Both Marilyn and Angie had suffered losses which had had an impact on how they related to each other and to other people and the story explored how important it is to know about one’s roots in order to feel safe and secure. It is often the little things, emerging from shared memories, looking at old photographs etc., which help to give us a sense of belonging and connectedness and the story illustrated well how insecure a person can feel if these are missing. It also highlighted that no one should be expected to live someone else’s dreams; we all need to feel free to follow our own.

I thought that the characterisations were convincing and that the self-absorbed angst of adolescence was well captured. I found it very easy to begin to care about the fates of each of the characters and this meant that I soon found myself emotionally engaged with their struggles, at times to the extent that I was moved to tears. I also felt that the writing captured a very vivid sense of time and place.

The nature of the themes explored make this is a thought-provoking book and, as such, I think it would make a good choice for reading groups.

Linda Hepworth 4/4

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira
Hot Key Books 9781471406515 pbk Mar 2018

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