Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Published: August 2017, Riverhead Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 417 pages
Source: Publisher

Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle's escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.

My thoughts: I picked this book up at BookExpo last Spring after hearing about it at the Editor's Buzz Panel. It was being touted as one of the upcoming BIG books and I was excited to read it - a debut novel from a talented author...exactly the type of book that I tend to enjoy. The subject matter isn't necessarily what I gravitate towards all the time, but I like to branch out every one in a while and this one sounded good. 

Well...let me just say upfront...this is an incredibly intense and disturbing book. Not that it's a bad book, but for some people it will be a very hard read. I fully admit, there were times I thought about abandoning it, but I was so curious as to how it would all play out that I had to continue. It's graphic, it's disturbing and at times, it's depressing, but Turtle, the main character, will win your heart and she is what kept me going.

Turtle is a survivor. She's fourteen and lives with her father who uses rather unconventional methods to raise her. This is where it gets sticky and will turn people off. He teaches her to shoot and fend for herself. He also feels that since she is the only female in the house, and he has certain needs, she can and should fulfill them. As she is only fourteen, I don't think she fully realizes this is wrong until later on. The hard part with all this is that Gabriel Tallent doesn't shy away from these scenes...he puts us right there in the room as all this is going on. It's raw and it's intense. 

As I said, Turtle is a survivor. But she is also endearing. She will win your heart and this is why I found as hard as it was to read certain scenes, I just couldn't put the book down. Having Turtle narrate the book allows us to see her struggle with understanding her father's abusive and demeaning behavior. This is what makes this book so gripping and hard to walk away from.

I realize this book is certainly not for everyone, but I can see where it would make an excellent book club pick - it is chock full of discussion points. It really is an incredible reading experience with some rather beautiful writing. I definitely will be looking forward to seeing what comes next from this talented author.



  1. An author I love recommended this book, so I got a copy of it awhile ago. I'm glad to see you kept reading and ultimately enjoyed it, despite the subject matter. I'm looking forward to picking it up at some point. Great review!

  2. I can handle disturbing and this one looks really interesting. I definitely am looking forward to it.


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