I'd been intrigued by the plot of Beth Kephart's newest novel, You Are My Only, ever since I first heard about it; the young-mother angle was what particularly caught my attention, as I was also married at nineteen and a mother by twenty. Thankfully, my story and Emmy Rane's dont have much more in common than that.
This isn't just Emmy's story, however; its also that of fourteen-year-old Sophie Marks, whose overly-sheltering mother Cheryl has moved the two of them from one place to another--always trying to stay ahead of what she calls the No Good--for most of Sophie's life, home-schooling and keeping her away from the neighbors. But Cheryl has to go to work, and Sophie's old enough to be getting restless, which leads her across the alley to meet Joey Rudd, his two aunts, and their big loud dog, Harvey.
Kephart follows Emmy and Sophie through alternating, parallel narratives. Emmy's efforts to find her missing Baby cause her physical injury and sufficient mental and emotional anguish to be confined to a state hospital. Sophie's developing relationship with Joey's family causes her to see herself differently and to chafe against her own confinement, facing questions she hasn't really thought about before and finding answers that she she never imagined.
Theres suspense in this novel, but it doesn't come from figuring out how Emmy's and Sophie's stories are connected; any reader who doesn't surmise that connection fairly quickly isn't paying attention, and Beth Kephar'ts novels both require and reward attention. While they're written primarily for a young-adult audience, they're ideal crossover books for the adult who doesn't usually read YA; unlike a lot of current YA fiction, they're firmly rooted in the real world and feature emotionally complex characters. Kephart's teens have always been strikingly real, but in Emmy, she's created an adult protagonist who is just as fully realized.
You Are My Only explores attachment from a number of perspectives; the fierce protectiveness of mother love is a primary theme (one that I think applies to Cheryl as well as to Emmy), with the unconventional family across the alley--two elderly lesbian aunts and the teenage nephew they are raising--considered in counterpoint. These themes largely emerge between the lines. Kephart's writing is poetic and evocative, and as I said, it rewards attention paid to it; one of her great strengths is that she can tell a powerful story without hammering all the points home. And this is a powerful, memorable story, ambitious in structure and emotionally affecting.