My Abandonment / Peter Rock

"My Abandonment," by Peter Rock, Mariner Books, 2010

What a terrific book "My Abandonment," this year's MacReads book, turns out to be!

Oh, I liked it from the beginning, when I thought I was choosing to read page after page about an adolescent called Caroline living in a secret forest shelter. Then I realized -- without minding at bit -- the I really wasn't in control here; author Peter Rock is completely in charge, pulling me through the story in the direction and at the speed he had chosen.

Rock made me smile at Caroline's adventures and frown at the actions of authority figures; question conventions and shake my head at the unthinking kindness of strangers; worry and grieve as the girl and her father struggle through a life-threatening snowstorm. And then the author made me gasp as he turned my assumptions inside out and upside down. It was a complicated and unforgettable trip.

Caroline, who narrates the story, resides in Portland's Forest Park with her father, a veteran whose nightmares are invaded by helicopters.

At 13, she is well-mannered and well-educated, thanks to her father's lessons. She learns from the animals and plants in the park, as well as from her treasured encyclopedia and dictionary and the math homework he oversees.

As close as can be, they practice kindness and serenity. They are happy, healthy and clean. It's a good life, we realize.

And then a runner stumbles upon their camp, bringing a landslide of police officers and social workers to their leafy doorstep. Taken in for questioning and tests, Caroline yearns for fresh air, trees and, most of all, her father.

After a few days, they are reunited and given what everyone assumes they need and want: A place to live, food and clothing, a paying job. People who've read about their "plight" even shower them with gifts.

But for a pair used to complete freedom -- from possessions as well as from conventional life -- it's just too restrictive. Father hears more helicopters, and soon they're on the run. For the reader, the horrors are just beginning.

Parts of the book are based on real occurrences, including the discovery of a man and child living in the Portland park. But as Rock leads us through the fact-based and the imagined, he shows us new ways of looking at each. You'll keep thinking about this book long after the author releases you.

And, luckily, since it's a MacReads book, you'll have opportunities to talk to other community members who've also experienced "My Abandonment." Discussions and a talk by the author are planned this spring. Check the News-Register for the schedule.

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