A young woman wants the perfect life depicted on YouTube but is everything - What It Seems ?
What It Seems, Emily Bleeker
Genre: General Fiction
Published 3/2020, pages TBD (ARC)
A quick read, this is an interesting story about Tara/Angela, a 20 year old young woman who is totally dominated by a creepy and truly abusive 'foster' mom. She has been abused physically and mentally since she was 8, so if that's a trigger for you, you might want to avoid this book. Her one lifeline is an ancient computer with limited access that has allowed her to discover a You Tube family that becomes her idea of the perfect family - a life she doesn't have.
"With the Feelys, I've been to Disney World. I've experienced Alyssa's pregnancy, ultrasound, baby shower, labor, and delivery of Ryland. I know through the Feelys what it's like to be a sister and a daughter, and in some ways I know what I'd want if I ever got away from Mother and got married."
At 20, circumstances occur that allow her to try to escape. That escape is successful, but as she tries to find her way as an intern with that You Tube vblog family, she finds her life equally stressful, just in a different way. This is a story of how a young woman finds her way out of a hellish life and begins to figure out who she is and if she's strong enough to survive.
"This is a wail of pain and a sigh of release happening at the same instant - acknowledging that I am free but also unsure if I am okay with leaving so much behind. It's a soundless cry and a flood of tears for the Tara I was, and fear of the Angela I must become in order to survive."
Told in the first person, I feel like that makes it a stronger story - it does tend to hook you in and think about the trauma and terror she has lived through. There is suspense as the story builds to Tara's escape but landing in such an uncertain life and wondering if Mother is going to find her again. The story isn't particularly twisty, more a steady climb as Tara goes from one frightening event to another, trying to be brave and overcome her fears.
Overall I thought the story arc was strong. The blurb about the book makes it seem as if the vblog family is something scary or sinister. While their life is actually different than portrayed on You Tube (shocker!), there's nothing particularly sinister about them. But, there is enough evil in Mother for anyone. It was a good illustration of how what we see online isn't always based in reality!
"This new world I'm in has so much beauty it almost hurts to look at it, and right now I miss my modest life of nothingness. I had the rules, my dolls, my room, my work, and Mother. As long as I did what she demanded of me, my life was so simple, so easy. I thought being free of Mother would feel like freedom, but I was wrong. It feels like falling and not knowing if anyone is going to catch me."
I have an aversion to protagonists that are hand-wringers. When half the book is full of "oh poor me, whatever should I do" internal dialog, I usually stop reading. This one straddled that edge for me.....but when I did find myself thinking, 'oh just stop whining and DO something', I remembered her upbringing and the PTSD she was undoubtedly dealing with, and kept reading. Even with its quick, Hollywood-like ending, I'm glad I did.
Thanks to #NetGalley and #LakeUnionPublishing for the advance book. The book was received for free and the opinion is entirely my own. This book is my first ARC (advance reader copy) to evaluate and I'm surprised that I feel more of a sense of responsibility in my review than usual - maybe because not many others will have read this yet (release date 3/17/20), so my opinion is one of the early ones.
photo by Jason Leung, via unsplash