Book Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent is a book I’ve been hearing about a lot recently (both good things and not-so-good things). It has been billed as a haunting story with fierce language and a dark side. With a description like that I knew I had to read it.
Readers – be aware there is a lot of strong language and dark/tough themes in this book.
My Absolute Darling is the story of fourteen-year-old Turtle who lives with her survivalist father along the North California coast. Turtle lives her life roaming the woods, keeping students and teachers at arms length at school, and spending time with her declining grandfather. When Turtle stumbles upon two high-schoolers, Jacob and Brett (who are lost in the woods), she learns that there is more to life than what her father makes her believe. When her father brings home another young girl, Turtle needs to use all the survival skills her father has taught her not only to save herself, but also those friends she’s finally learned to let in.
I struggled with this book in the beginning. The language is extremely strong (which doesn’t normally bother me), but for some reason it came off a little deliberately offensive. I understand Tallent was trying to use it to paint the picture of Turtle and her life, and while sometimes I think the strong/offense language works well in stories, I’m not sure I liked it in this one. However, once I got through the first 60 pages or so I was sucked into the story. I loved Turtle as a character and her growth throughout the book was done so well. I couldn’t help but root for her and I had to know how the story was going to end.
I thought Tallent did a good job crafting detailed characters. Turtles’s father was intimidating and yet incredibly charming. Anna, Turtles’s teacher, was strong yet struggled to always know the right thing to do. Jacob and Brett were typical teenage boys, but were still smart, funny, and stood up for their friends and Turtle, even when it might have gone better for themselves if they didn’t.
I loved the confrontation of Turtle and her father at the end of the book, Turtle didn’t suddenly become a different person, which I feel sometimes happens when authors get to the climax of books. She struggled but fought and finally became to believe in herself. However, after the confrontation, I was really let down with the conclusion of the book. Tallent takes 30 pages to wrap up the story but nothing really happens, and some of the things that do happen (or not happen – don’t want to give anything away) just make me mad. I’m not upset that Turtle doesn’t bounce back right away (that is to be expected and realistic), but how the author crafts it I just feel like there’s little hope (minus the last like 3 pages that do show Turtle having hope for the future).
Rating 3/ 5 – This book was a roller coaster, both with the story and with how I felt about it. While I really enjoyed the middle of the book, the growth of Turtle, and the crafting of the characters, the book had a very slow start and in the end let me down. I think this book is worth giving a chance, but for me it fell a little short of the high expectations I had going in.