by Ruth Emmie Lang
St. Martin’s Press publication 15-Nov-2022
AMBER LOVE 21-Nov-2022 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.
Five years ago, Nora Wilder disappeared. The older of her two daughters, Zadie, should have seen it coming, because she can literally see things coming. But not even her psychic abilities were able to prevent their mother from vanishing one morning.
Zadie’s estranged younger sister, Finn, can’t see into the future, but she has an uncannily good memory, so good that she remembers not only her own memories, but the echoes of memories other people have left behind. On the afternoon of her graduation party, Finn is seized by an “echo” more powerful than anything she’s experienced before: a woman singing a song she recognizes, a song about a bird…
When Finn wakes up alone in an aviary with no idea of how she got there, she realizes who the memory belongs to: Nora.
Now, it’s up to Finn to convince her sister that not only is their mom still out there, but that she wants to be found. Against Zadie’s better judgement, she and Finn hit the highway, using Finn’s echoes to retrace Nora’s footsteps and uncover the answer to the question that has been haunting them for years: Why did she leave?
But the more time Finn spends in their mother’s past, the harder it is for her to return to the present, to return to herself. As Zadie feels her sister start to slip away, she will have to decide what lengths she is willing to go to find their mother, knowing that if she chooses wrong, she could lose them both for good.
Ruth Emmie Lang’s novel about a mother obsessed with birds and having two daughters searching for her across the country felt like the story that came at the exact right time. While we live in a pandemic world (that’s not mentioned in the book), a lot of people took up bird watching in their backyards since we weren’t allowed to travel for a while. I’ve been watching and feeding our backyard birds for years. Maybe you don’t like birds at all or have a phobia of them, but you feel drawn to some other part of the animal kingdom, the planet, or the universe. Lang’s main characters end up meeting people with all kinds of connections to the universe.
Zadie is in her 20’s and her little sister, Finn, is just graduating high school. Unfortunately, Nora walked away from her daughters and their Texas home five years ago. Finn was only 12. She ended up in a foster home that was loving, kind, and financially secure. Zadie, however, goes on an arc of resentment towards her mother, jealousy perhaps of Finn, abandonment, and into a long span of learning how to bond with people again. Finn is a delightful free spirit, but a bit too much like her mother, Nora.
What makes the Wilder women special is their psychic abilities. Reading through Lang’s chapters doesn’t feel like speculative fiction or fantasy or superheroes. Finn’s psychic episodes, called echoes, involve picking up memories that can overtake control of her. Zadie is the type of psychic who gets random premonitions, but since the day her mother abandoned them, she worked hard to repress the power from rearing up. Though having psychic abilities like these sound like they can fun and amusing for parlor tricks, Lang introduces deeply unsettling effects mostly with Finn who has less and less control over her echoes.
Lang’s secondary characters are likeable and unique. Each one pops up as the girls travel from Texas to Washington state at precisely the moment help is needed. There are times when that kindness of strangers feels too easy, but since Finn keeps landing herself in dangerous situations, the respite from peril is welcome.
This story brings up various themes about family and relationships. Finn’s foster family wants to adopt her. Zadie feels like she’s all alone even with an unplanned pregnancy. Finn’s foster parents show that family can be chosen not always biological. The campground residents who share their love of the stars with the girls, broaden the focus from personal problems to community to the life of stars. Then there’s Joel, Zadie’s ex-boyfriend who ends up tagging along for a chunk of their journey. Joel is an interesting sort of character. He’s simple. Maybe he’s supposed to have a low IQ or something else; he can’t hold down a job but his heart is full of compassion and kindness. Joel is one of Zadie’s biggest conflicts: she appreciates him, but she’s not in love with him.
A widower father and three little spunky girls end up taking on a temporary family role for Zadie, Joel, and Finn for a couple of days. The father, Myron, goes through a lot of what Zadie has been through. It takes getting to know Finn and Zadie that gets through to Myron and helps him in a special way.
As Finn’s condition gets worse, Zadie learns to forgive more. She wants to hold onto to her sister and other people they discover for the sake her baby having a chance at a family.
Rating: 5 stars
If you liked the part in Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers and Wayward about “sleepwalkers,” this story might appeal to you. It’s completely different and avoids the horrible violence of those books, but people taking off as if controlled by something stronger is something they have in common. If you always felt like you had a strong connection to part of the natural world – so strong you couldn’t explain it and felt you had to do as the feelings command – this is definitely for you.