Coming-of-age stories usually prove hit or miss with me. I’ve noticed that the ones where the main character has an idyllic childhood that transitions over to a smooth adult life, with some pretty obvious life quirks along the way, do not engage me at all. I need my coming-of-age stories to have some serious life issues, entertaining if not slightly off the wall relationships, and some sort of crisis that forces the main character to really examine their life thus far. (As you can probably tell, I’ve read my fair share of coming-of-age tales.) As a result, I’m usually hesitant when I come across an adult fiction book with a young person as the main character. My latest read, My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, is a coming-of-age story that I discovered was listed on multiple book lists. Because of the press surrounding this book, I decided to give it a go.
I’ll admit that when I first started this book, I was skeptical: skeptical of the main characters, skeptical of the press it received, and skeptical that I would actually like this book. I’m glad I decided to stick with this book through to the end because I finally understood all the hype. My Absolute Darling was much better that I thought it would be.
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent tells the story of fourteen year old Turtle Alveston. Turtle is the living embodiment of the term survivor. Living off the beaten path in the woods along the northern California coast, Turtle has the run of the wilderness for miles. She knows the creeks, woods, rocky islands, and tide pools like the back of her hand. Throw her into the wild and she can do literally anything. This is all due to the intense training done by her father, Martin.
Turtle’s mother died when she was young, leaving Turtle to grow up at the hands of her father, Martin, with some help from her grandfather. Martin is slightly crazy, holds deep and somewhat fanatic beliefs on a variety of subjects, and is tortured by events from his past. Raising Turtle to be a survivalist in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, Martin tries to do his best, but it quickly becomes clear that the life the two are living is not safe and they cannot go on the way they have been for very much longer.
Turtle may have absolute command of the outside physical world, but her personal world is in utter chaos. Dealing with middle school is torturous: the other kids don’t understand her and while her teachers are trying to help her, Turtle knows she can’t let them get too close otherwise they will realize her truth. Outside of school, Turtle’s life is limited to her father, their cabin, and to the woods, whenever she is able to sneak away from her father to enjoy it.
A chance encounter with a high-school boy named Jacob completely changes Turtle’s life. Jacob and his friends are care free, live in big clean houses, and think Turtle is amazing. The fact that she knows so much about the wild and can clearly handle herself blows them all away. Turtle enjoys their company and finally has her first healthy relationship in years. Hanging out with Jacob and his friends gives Turtle her first real friendships and the fact that Jacob is pretty cute gives Turtle her first teenage crush. This new group of friends is exactly what Turtle needs to finally realize the truth behind Martin’s actions and to see that the way Martin behaves towards her, and towards others, is not healthy. She can’t live like that anymore. With her newfound courage and the survival skills her father has instilled in her since birth, Turtle starts to think that she can escape from her father. Turtle must learn to trust herself and believe she is willing to do whatever it takes to escape.
I really enjoyed this book even though I didn’t understand all the press and awards it was receiving until almost the very end of the book. If you’re thinking of giving up on this book, don’t! Promise me you’ll stick through to the end! Let me know what you think if you decide to give it a go. I hope you’ll be just as pleasantly surprised as I was.
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