I may have hyper-focused on the portion of the synopsis that mentions that Alex Carmody is shipped off to the Birches, a boarding school in New Hampshire. That coupled with a beautiful cover of a young woman standing in what I perceived to be the campus of a boarding school in the middle of Autumn in New England– I didn’t stand a chance. But, if you’re looking for a novel that takes place at a boarding school– one where the main character navigates cliques in the cafeteria at lunchtime, enrolls in fascinating classes that exists only in our imaginations, or discovers a group of exceptional friends– look somewhere else. If you’re looking for a novel full of suspense and deceit and a journey both metaphorical and literal, look no further than Deliver Her by Patricia Perry Donovan.
On the night of Alex Carmody’s sixteenth birthday, she and her best friend, Cass, are victims of a terrible car accident. Alex survives; Cass doesn’t. Consumed by grief, Alex starts cutting school and partying, growing increasingly detached. The future she’d planned with her friend is now meaningless to her.
Meg Carmody is heartbroken for her daughter, even as she’s desperate to get Alex’s life back on track. The Birches, a boarding school in New Hampshire, promises to do just that, yet Alex refuses to go. But when Meg finds a bag of pills hidden in the house, she makes a fateful call to a transporter whose company specializes in shuttling troubled teens to places like The Birches, under strict supervision. Meg knows Alex will feel betrayed—as will her estranged husband, who knows nothing of Meg’s plans for their daughter.
When the transport goes wrong—and Alex goes missing—Meg must face the consequences of her decision and her deception. But the hunt for Alex reveals that Meg is not the only one keeping secrets.
I knew fairly early on how this novel would end, and yet I still found myself compelled to read on. Because it’s the ride the author takes the reader on that makes Deliver Her so worth while. Donovan slowly reveals the tragic past of a broken family, and at the same time, she propels the reader forward across icy roads blocked by moose and car rides from creepy strangers to reach a place of healing that is both literal and metaphorical.
Deliver Her is told from multiple POVs. First, there is Meg Caromdy, who is a mother who seems to have reached the end of the road in her relationship not just with her husband but also with her daughter. Then, there is Alex Carmody, who is battered by the guilt that she may have been the cause of her best friend’s death. And finally, there is Carl, a recovering addict, whose role is to transport Alex to the Birches safe and sound. Deliver Her isn’t explicitly a young adult novel or an adult novel, so the reader spends half of the novel caught up in the psyche of a teenage girl and the other half in the mind of a mother at her wit’s end. Further, Donovan manages to strike a gentle balance of writing from the teenage perspective without bogging the narration down with angst that I think make this novel appeal not just to a young adult audience but to readers who may be reluctant to pick something up that is labeled “YA”.
It’s hard to feel disappointed that Deliver Her isn’t a novel that takes place at boarding school because Donovan paints such convincing and heartbreaking picture of a dysfunctional family. One where family members are so caught up in their lives, regardless of how mundane they may be, that they don’t even see how disconnected from one another they really are until it’s too late. One where family member’s harbor secrets to protect others or tell lies to one another just to make it through the day peacefully, without confrontation.
Every single character, from Jack, Alex’s naive little brother, to Carl, a recovering addict, who transports the troubled youth to rehab centers, garners sympathy and yet, most of the time I kept thinking, gosh I hope my marriage doesn’t turn out this way, or I hope my child doesn’t end up like this.