With the best books, you pick them up, and you know after a few sentences, this is going to be a good one. Laura Elliott's YA book Winnemucca is pure poetry. Adults will devour this book as much as any younger readers. I found myself slowing down to breathe in the beauty of the words, sometimes reading aloud, to better try and catch the rhythms of the beautiful and unique back-country voice of this narrator, Virginia Mae Nolyn:
"When the convict slipped back into the circular crowd, I grabbed a handful of San Joaquin soil and swirled the fingers of my free hand in the little mound of dirt in my palm. I touched my soil-stained fingers to my heart and became a Child of the Road."
The story is not complicated, but Virginia Mae's stubborn mind sure is. Running away from her own impending marriage, she has found out that the thing she hates the most is to be managed. She is learning to listen to the impulses that "bubble up inside" and continually reminds herself, especially when the going gets tough, "One foot in front of the other."
Her birth-mother is in Winnemucca, so Ginny is not just running away from something. She is on a quest to find her mother and connect, for the first time. To claim the things that have been denied her. She takes us with her on her harrowing, sometimes dangerous, always breathtaking road-trip, allowing the reader to eavesdrop on every moment of the gorgeously conflicted consciousness of a seventeen-year-old rebel.
There is irony in the fact that the largest employer in her hometown is a federal prison, and half the town population lives within its walls. At one point, Ginny stands just outside the prison fence, looking in: "A convict paused inside the chain-link with his hands on his hips. I let go of the prison sign, dropped to my feet and stood ramrod straight, as different from the wimpy oats as possible. We stared at each other. Him in his prison. Me in mine. We both knew what kept us walking in circles." The writing is self-assured, powerful, and poetic.
Her journey to Winnemucca is Ginny's road to self-discovery, out of her own personal prison of ignorance and self-delusion. From her website I saw that Laura Elliot has another book coming out in a few months. I predict a wide following for this author if the next book is anywhere near as good as Winnemucca. Winnemucca is a newborn classic.