This review is based on an unproofed copy, so assumes spelling and usage issues will not appear in the published version.
Lacey Dawn lives in the Hollow, a depressed rural community in the Appalachian Mountains. Dividing her time between placating her physically abusive father and triggering his rage so he doesn’t vent it on her mother, Lacey has all the makings of a victim. But unlike most abused children, she can talk to trees and has attracted the attention of a hyper-intelligent alien. She is desperate to make the world a better place, but how much difference can a twelve-year-old make?
The story is formed of two strongly contrasting threads: the chronic abuse and poverty under which Lacey Dawn grows up; and the surreal schemes she undertakes on behalf of her alien teacher. Although a comedy about child abuse might feel in bad taste from the perspective of an adult, Eggleton’s choice of protagonist make the shifts from fear to exuberance feel like the extremes of emotion and narrow world-view of a child.
In addition to providing a stronger contrast, the mixture of the serious and the farcical provides the personal motivation that is missing from some farcical fiction. Rather than merely going along with crazy alien schemes because children might, the schemes might provide the happy family that Lacey Dawn craves.
However, Eggleton’s combination of setting and primary viewpoint can also serve to make the book less accessible. While Lacey Dawn is not stupid, she does begin the novel with the perspective and dialect of an Appalachian child, so some readers might take a while to develop an ear for her descriptions.
This voice also gives much of the book an earthy feel. While the main arcs are both serious and dramatic in places, there is also a significant amount of toilet humour (both figurative and literal) and youthful sexual misapprehension.
In addition to issues of dialogue, unlike the convention for omniscient viewpoint of setting internal dialogue with attribution, Eggleton sets internal dialogue as a separate paragraph following speech or action by the thinker. While he does follow the convention of setting internal dialogue in italics and this method is simple enough that a reader could pick it up after a few instances, the need to remember it might make the novel less accessible to those who don’t read in frequent chunks or those who are especially distanced by the dialect.
Lacey Dawn is a well-rounded character. Displaying many of the symptoms of an abused child, she is not defined by them. While it is (fortunately) hard to know if her thoughts and actions are realistic, they are plausible.
The supporting cast are similarly limited but not defined by their roles. Abusers are antagonists, victims of their environment, and complex individuals. Aliens are comical and driven by real goals. Even the trees have personality.
Featuring both physical and sexual abuse of children, and descriptions of pre-teen sexuality, this is not a light read. However, it is also neither prurient nor preaching, so is more than a catalogue of unpleasantness.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I recommend it to readers seeking an adult narrative from the perspective of a child or science-fiction with a tint of low farce.
I received an unproofed review copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.