June 27, 2013

Lily and Taylor

by Elise Moser
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-334-6 (hc)
978-1-55498-336-0 (ePub)
224 pp.
Ages 14+
September, 2013
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy

Lily and Taylor is not for the faint of heart.  It is raw and brutal, just as is Taylor's reality.  Seventeen-year-old Taylor had been living with her older sister Tannis and her young nephew Mason when Tannis' boyfriend Bracken beats her to death in just one of his many episodes of physical abuse.  In fact, Lily and Taylor opens with Taylor witnessing her sister's autopsy, compelled to view the finality for her sister's body.

Though Taylor and Mason go to live with their Gram and her partner Douglas, and start at new schools, their old life has not been set aside.   Taylor's boyfriend Devon continues to call her, determined for her to see him.  Of course, it's not like they broke up; Taylor had just moved away.  But for Taylor, the physical space she now has away from Devon gives her an opportunity to let down some of the fear upon which their relationship is based.
She loved Devon but she'd been beginning to feel stuck with him, had begun to gaze jealously at the dork girls with no boyfriends.  The constant gnawing fear -- would he be mad if she said this, would he hate it if she wore that -- had been wearing her down. (pg.18)
Never confident about meeting new people and never having had any friends with whom she could shop or hang out, something that would make Devon angry ("You better not be lying to me." pg. 26), Taylor does eventually meet Lily, a tall lanky girl who has her own domestic secrets.  Lily lives with her mom after her parents' marriage ended.  Though her mother claims it was her father's drunkenness that was the cause, her father explains that it was after her mom's car accident that left her with a brain injury that made her volatile and unpredictable.  Sadly, Lily has been left to deal with her mother's unpredictability, and then her drinking, on her own.  But, just as Taylor notices at school, Lily is very good as deescalating conflict with lightness and humour.  Too bad that Lily sees herself through other people, even dying her bangs purple as "a sign that she had surrendered to her freak status." (pg. 44)

The brutality of Taylor's emotional, physical and sexual relationship with Devon, spiked with the profanities of their vernacular, is magnified when Devon drops by one night before Christmas and forces Taylor to go for a ride with him.  Though definitely unwanted, Lily jumps into the passenger seat and begins to chat up the driver, a stoic guy named Conor.  He drives them to cabin where Devon's controlling and violent nature has him brandishing a rifle to ensure compliance, even from Conor.  As Lily tries to find the means to escape and help Taylor, she draws on a multitude of memories to help her cope and survive.  Likewise, Taylor is rehashing all her experiences with Devon, and with Tannis, Mason and Bracken, and plotting how to help Lily.

The cycles of domestic abuse, from Tannis and Bracken, Taylor and Devon, Devon and his father, and even Lily's mom and her intermittent boyfriends, seem endless, even compounded, with Taylor and Mason.  Elise Moser makes it very clear that one cycle begets another.  The horror of these lives is derived from a normalcy of school, work, groceries, TV, and Christmas, overlain with pervasive abuse and its juxtaposition with caring.  Even Lily recognizes that Devon has Taylor so twisted about her feelings for him that she can't make rational decisions about her own safety.  Not surprising that Lily acknowledges that, "She hated them.  Devon and Connor most of all, but Taylor, too." (pg. 157)

Lily and Taylor brings together the cleverness of perspective and the confusion of the heart as they merge to become a stronger entity that can subdue, if not surmount, abuse, and it all happens because of the strength of friendship.  Brutal, honest, and hopeful, Lily and Taylor speaks for those weakened by abuse who cannot always voice their needs.  It is incumbent upon us to listen to their words.

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