Content warning – This book touches on sensitive subject matter that some may find difficult to read.
Every now and then I take a mini-hiatus from thrillers and read other genres. It’s a great way to stumble across books I might otherwise have missed.
In April, I selected Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel, Valentine, as my Book of the Month choice. The main thing that drew my attention is that it takes place in Odessa, Texas. I enjoy reading stories that are set in my home state because it creates a deeper connection to the book. Another reason I chose Valentine is because it was a #ReadWithJenna pick and she consistently chooses books that coincide with current events.
The story begins the morning after Valentine’s Day in 1976. Fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez shows up on the front steps of an old ranch house battered, bruised, and broken. What happened to Gloria is shocking, but she’s an outsider in the small town. Many people doubt if she is telling the truth and she is tried in the court of public opinion before her case ever enters a courtroom.
The story is told through rotating points of view of various women in the community. By switching between characters, Wetmore does a great job showing how a single trauma impacts an entire town. This format added depth that would have been difficult to capture with a lone character’s voice. Each woman is at a different stage in her life and this allows the reader to see the affect of Gloria’s attack through several different lenses.
Debra Ann Pierce, a young girl abandoned by her mother, who is innocent and trustworthy, but struggling to find her place in the world and always sees the good in people. Gloria Ramírez, who is able to find a way to be strong in the aftermath of a traumatic experience and see herself as a hero, not a victim. Mary Rose Whitehead, a young mother who is confronted with the consequences of a decision she made one morning all while trying to raise a daughter and newborn son. Corrine Shepard, the oldest of the characters, who is grieving the loss of her husband, Potter, and coming to terms with the fact that her relationship with her only daughter is strained.
Through the women’s eyes, Wetmore confronts issues that society deals with on a daily basis – namely race and violence. Her ability to convey the trauma experienced by Gloria, the incredible strength shown by Mary Rose, and the grief felt by Corrine creates relatable characters that resemble someone we all know.
I was surprised by this book because I went in thinking that the main focus would be on the rape and its aftermath. I quickly realized that the rape itself was more of a secondary storyline, the hub if you will. Each character was a spoke of the wheel that propelled the story forward. The book became about relationships formed during a time of need and how important those relationships are in daily life. About living with the consequences of a single decision. About confronting issues bigger than yourself and doing what’s right, no matter the cost. Finally, it’s about staring down the snake and realizing you have the power to move forward.
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