Infandous by Elana K. Arnold. Carolrhoda LAB. 2015. Review from ARC.
The Plot: It's the summer before senior year, and Sephora Golding is 17. She lives in a one bedroom apartment with her mother, still model beautiful, and young -- only 35.
Seph is figuring out her way to adulthood. She's going to summer school because she failed geometry. She's considering her well off aunt's offer to move across the country for her final year of school. She's working on her art, and has a few pieces around Venice Beach. She's resisting her mother's suggestion that she get a part time job. And she's trying not to think about Felix, the older man she met earlier this year --
Felix. Who she is trying not to think about. Older, handsome, and it was her choice to spend the night with him....
The Good: A terrific book, with so much packed into it.
Sephora is telling us her story, but is also telling us fairy tales and myths, stories of lost girls and terrible things. She is telling us her own story, warning us that in real life fairy tales don't have happy-ever-after endings. She is telling us her own story . . . . eventually.
Seph's story is of a girl born to a beautiful, single, teen mother who has made her own way in the world. Her own way is this rundown one bedroom apartment, going to night school. But here is one of the great things about Infandous: yes, it's the story of a girl with a beautiful mother. And a family that is living paycheck to paycheck. And it's also the story of a parent and child who love each other very much. There is no jealousy or hatred. And Seph doesn't complain, isn't bitter about where they live or how they make do.
But Seph is trying to figure out herself, her sexuality, her desire, and the person she has to measure herself against is a beautiful mother who still turns heads. And while she loves her aunt and her cousins, she sees what they have and thinks about how, when her mother was pregnant and unwed and disowned by her parents, her aunt picked her parents and didn't fight for her sister or her sister's child.
And meeting Felix -- meeting Felix was a chance for Seph to try out a different persona. So she said her name was Annie and that she was nineteen and a college student, adding years to her age. And she went to bed with him, willing and eager. "No one held a knife to my rib cage," she assures us. "I put myself in that room." And at the time, she thinks how different it is with Felix than with the other boys she'd been with, that there was warmth, that "I was a flower and I opened, I softened, and I ripened and warmed. I felt, I thought, like a woman rather than a girl, and as he found his way inside me, I wondered -- fleetingly -- if this was what sex was like for my mother." But now, with distance and knowledge, she is cold. And wonders about fault.
Seph is figuring out her life, and her friendships, and her own needs and feelings. Things happen, in life, like in fairy tales -- and you can decide what to do with that, with what happens to you. A person can be damaged, but a person can remain whole. And this perhaps is what I liked best about Infandous: that love cannot save one. And that bad things happen, or people do bad things, but one can still have that love that while it doesn't save, it keeps one whole.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy