I am absolutely and positively in love with this book....with its story, its setting, its characters...and despite the fact that the "I'm so high on this book let me rave about it right away" version of my review got carried into oblivion by the magical forces of my Firefox, my initial literary infatuation has not diminished one bit in the meantime...
I find it a bit amusing that most debut books in this genre get compared to Gillian Flynn - I am assuming in the attempt to stir the readers of Gone Girl in the direction of this book but I find that this comparison is a bit unfair towards the talent that Laura McHugh brings to the table all on her own. I am not expert on small town America but Henbane of McHugh's literary world is going to stay with me for quite a while. I am drawn to writers who know how to create the worlds I end up inhibiting with (reading) ease. And though Henbane of this story is murky and ominous, filled with darkness and secrets, I've enjoyed every second of "visiting" it.
Lucy Dane is sixteen, and though she was born and raised in Henbane, she is constantly dancing on the outer edges of actual acceptance by the other locals. Probably because her mother was an exotic and alluring outsider whose sudden departure soon after Lucy's birth still haunts the little town and especially Lucy herself. Lucy's friends are few and far between and when one of them (Cheri) is found dead, Lucy's need for answers ends up leading her down the path of (self)discovery that will change her world in more ways than she expected.
The story moves seamlessly between the past and the present, switching narration between various characters, allowing the reader greater insight into numerous points of view and I loved that shifting point of view. Getting to know Lucy, her mom Lila, brothers Crete and Carl, Lucy's neighbor Birdie - their stories and journeys end up being just as seductive as the main story itself. I wouldn't be surprised to see this book turned into a movie, it seems to have all the elements Hollywood is drawn to these days.
I know I'll be grabbing a copy of whatever books comes out of Laura McHugh's keyboard next. In the meantime I just wanted to share a few of the beautiful quotes that simply "forced" their way into my collection:
"She'd make a game of it where she'd relax all the little bits of her body, starting with her fingers and toes and working in toward the center. She had to make herself limp and draw the hurt and want into a tight core inside, each time adding another layer to that core, so that if somebody came along and cut her open, they'd find inside a shining, perfect pearl, hard as any Willy Wonka jawbreaker."
"I took in the thick night air, the sweet smell of honeysuckle, the chirping of frogs, to impress the moment in the folds of my memory, preserve it like a flower between pages of a book. To remember: This is how it feels to be happy."
"It occurred to her then that there was a reason age drained the pleasure out of life, slowly stripping away all the things you enjoyed or took for granted. It was so you wouldn't need convincing when the time came. You'd be ready, because everything good in life was gone."