June Reads – Hard Truth by Nevada Barr

I stayed up until 1 am reading and it wasn’t until the next day that I realized this book helped fulfill my goal of reading more books with disabled characters.

Heath, a strong young woman, is confined to a wheel chair after injuring her spinal cord in an ice climbing accident. In the first pages of the novel she bitterly wheels her wheelchair through an accessible camping lot, only to fall out onto a pair of lost girls. The two girls, one twelve and one thirteen, have been lost in the wilderness for almost a month.  They’re nearly naked, horribly traumatized, and unwilling to be parted from Heath.

The book is part of the Anna Pigeon series, so Anna is the main character. Heath gets a lot of page time though, and is able to help the lost girls both because of, and in spite of, her status as a paraplegic. Her character moves from being angry and bitter almost all the time, drinking and smoking, to fighting for others, working hard, and accepting that her new status doesn’t change who she is. The book included a great passage about her wheelchair going from being “other” to being a part of her body.

There was also a very fine mystery going on. The girls turn out to be part of a religious cult/commune that practices polygamy and child marriage. Their parents are firmly against any psychological counseling. They don’t want the police or anyone else involved in their life. Questions arise about demons; did the girls see one? Is it responsible for the dead animals and strange attacks in the night?

Trigger warning: torture of animals and violence towards women (including rape). While the worst abuse takes place off stage, the story doesn’t shy away from portraying uncomfortable scenes. When I got to the end I was surprised by the depth of the villain’s depravity and unsure that all the characters would recover well. So while it kept me turning pages, this book might not be for everyone.

I was fairly sure I had the mystery figured out at least five times, only to change my mind twenty pages later. I stayed up late reading because I had to know how it all came together. I suspected all sorts of things for the characters, which include a handful of park rangers, a youth pastor, and the girls’ families. Most of what I guessed didn’t come to pass. It was nice to see a book that didn’t rely on the usual tropes.

I’m looking forward to reading more of the Anna Pigeon stories, hopefully they’ll all have characters as good as Heath.

 

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