True Places is the first novel by Sonya Yoerg that I’ve encountered and I will certainly seek out more by this gifted writer! Yoerg presents us with an interesting question . . . and not the one you’ll likely find in the blurbs summarizing the book online (what would you do if you found a 16-year-old girl alone, gravely ill, emaciated, non-communicative and frightened on the side of the road?).
To begin, Yoerg deftly draws us into the world of Suzanne Blakemore – a highly driven, involved and capable suburban mother of two teens (difficult for different reasons) who is overcommitted, under-appreciated and forging full-steam ahead in a (self-induced) complicated and busy life that leaves her breathless yet unfulfilled at the same time. (“His wife accommodated everyone—the kids, him, her parents—keeping them together, keeping things running. Duty. Suzanne wore it like a cloak.”)
Suzanne is easy to relate to, as a mother and highly driven person myself. I’m certain many women I know will find themselves nodding along to the conundrums Suzanne faces as she brings Iris (the teen she rescues) into the fold of her family and must explain this modern life we all live to a young girl who has no framework for understanding why and how we do it all. It is through this process that she begins to wonder why she (and everyone else) is doing any of it at all. That question drives Suzanne, her husband, kids and ultimately Iris (the young girl she rescues) to confront truths that have long been buried in their subconscious, secrets that have never been spoken of, fears that have been realized but never truly overcome, and brings to light how easily one can simply move forward in life because it’s the expected thing to do yet find oneself later questioning how one arrived there at all. (“No one gives in without giving something up, and nothing is given up without cost.”) That, my friends, is the genius of Yoerg’s True Places. She brings us into the psyche of these characters, which makes us think she is taking us along their journey. But if you let her, Yoerg also brilliantly leverages the characters to encourage the reader to ask themselves those same questions – How did I arrive here? Is this what makes me happy? Do all the “things” I’m doing to be a good parent really mean my kids feel like we are, indeed, a family? Are we doing right by them by staying the course, even if we are forsaking the veracity of our passions, our character, what we believe to be the goodness of family?
Throughout, Yoerg seamlessly weaves in robust details that gives dimension to her characters and makes us care, deeply, about what will come of each of them as they take this journey. She brings to life their physical world, their innermost thoughts, their fears and desires and their untapped passions in such rich detail that you truly feel physically transported to the remote Virginian woods she writes of as well as the isolation that surrounds not only their community but their hearts and minds.
I finished this book in 3 days, staying up late and foregoing more pressing “things to do” . . . and like Suzanne, it was more than worth it in the end. Bravo and thank you Ms. Yoerg!