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Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar

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Title: These Gentle Wounds
Author: Helene Dunbar
Publisher: Flux
Pub. Date: May 8, 2014
Genre: YA
Rec. Age Level: 14+

It's been five years since the tragic day when 15-year-old Gordie's mother drove herself and four of her kids into the river. Gordie should be thankful he survived, but, most days, it feels like a curse. Plagued by guilt over his inability to save his mother and siblings, Gordie struggles to keep his panic attacks and stress-induced ticks under control. Hockey and living with his half-brother, Kevin, and Kevin's father, Jim, has kept Gordie grounded, as well as his budding relationship with photographer Sarah, but he starts to lose control when his estranged birth father reenters the picture, demanding custody. Gordie and Kevin have never told anyone about the Gordie's father's violent tendencies and abuse and now it might be too late. Can Gordie face the painful truths of his past to save his future?

Wow. This novel deals with seriously intense subject matter. Immediately, I was pulled into the painful tragedy of Gordie's life - how could you not be? He was just a little boy when his mother made the fateful decision to drive her car filled with her children into the river. It's impossible not to be just as lost and confused as Gordie is; understanding how and why a mother could do that is not an easy task as reader or as the son that survived.

Despite the dark subject matter of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, author Helene Dunbar punctuates the heaviness with moments, people, and memories that offer hope and solace. In Dunbar's skilled hands, Gordie's story is survivable, even in it's horrible sadness... and it needs to be survivable for Gordie to find his way through the aftermath.

One source of light was Sarah, the girl who surprises Gordie with her candor and kindness, providing him with a distraction and refuge from the turbulence of his past and the reemergence of his father. Sarah is unique in that she's ignorant of Gordie's past. She shows him that he is more than the boy that survived; his mother's son; his father's possession. It could be argued that putting so much power in a high school relationship might not be the best message, but I think readers will be sophisticated enough to realize that it isn't simple infatuation or a crush that makes Sarah's influence within Gordie's life so powerful, it's that she is truly a good person who cares about Gordie as a person, not as a product of parents' actions.

In addition to Sarah, Gordie finds gains much needed support and love from his half-brother, Kevin, Kevin's father, Jim, the legal representative who has handled Gordie's case for years, his teacher, and, in small ways, some of his teammates. Time and time again, the message that "you are not alone" was reinforced for Gordie, and, I think, for readers. This message, coupled with Gordie's strength, make THESE GENTLE WOUNDS a surprisingly hopeful novel, despite its heavy themes.


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