In Hand Me Down (April 2012) by Melanie Thorne, fourteen-year-old Liz is forced to grow up quickly when her emotionally damaged mother becomes pregnant and marries a repeat sex offender named Terrence. With no one to turn to for help, Liz shoulders the enormous responsibility of protecting her twelve-year-old sister, Jaime. As per an order of the court, their stepfather is forbidden to reside in the same dwelling as his stepdaughters. Liz has already been leered at and propositioned by Terrence, who has now secretly threatened to do the same to Jaime. Liz’s mother worsens the situation by choosing Terrence over her daughters, thus allowing him to remain in the house while Liz and Jaime are uprooted to go live with a variety of relatives who are temporarily willing to take them in. Jaime moves in with her alcoholic and jobless father. Liz refuses to live with her father and, instead, moves in briefly with Terrence’s brother and his wife. As the girls shuffle from relative to relative, their mother grows increasingly vague on when they can come home. Liz watches Jaime’s sweet disposition change under the negative influence of their father. At the same time, she watches her mother continue to choose an unreformed criminal over her own daughters. Liz finally is forced to choose between telling the awful truth about Terrence and the vow she made to protect Jaime at all costs.
Under these dire circumstances, Liz remains a strong and extremely likeable character. She is clearly the most adult and responsible person in her family; it is easy to forget she is only fourteen years old. During the time in her life where she should have access to limitless amounts of parental support, she is abused, neglected, and abandoned again and again. You cannot help but cheer for this girl.
Written in Liz’s straightforward, honest voice, the reader watches Liz move from a frightened girl to learning the power of her own voice and what it really means to be a family. I was struck by how much this story reminded me of another book I reviewed for Author Exposure called Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar. Though the genres were different, one being a memoir and the other a novel, the two stories offer up many parallels and both yielded two similarly voiced heroines with a well of inner strength and wisdom belying their tender years. I would recommend Hand Me Down to a wide audience including both adults and young adults.
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