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Watch Over Me

by Nina LaCour

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour X
Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2022, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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A teenager with a traumatic past finds a new life and a surrogate family on a farm where the ghosts of the past are both literal and metaphorical.

In the vast, kaleidoscopic multiverse of plot devices, one type that always pulls me right in is what I call the Immediate Journey. The novelist introduces the main character in a scant few pages with a smidge of the history that led them to this point (imparting a whiff of mystery designed for us to follow the rest of the story out of curiosity), and then they're off, with the reader experiencing their new physical and emotional territory right alongside them.

In Watch Over Me, the protagonist is Mila, a recent high school graduate and four-year foster care veteran who's interviewed by Nick Bancroft, the adopted son of prolific foster parents Terry and Julia. They run a farm that's 45 minutes from Mendocino, California, and Mila is chosen not only to live there and share in the responsibilities as its newest intern, but also to teach the foster children. When she arrives, there is only one child, Lee, with whom she develops an immediate connection. Like Mila, Lee is weighed down by a sorrowful history.

There are also ghosts, which author Nina LaCour wisely treats matter-of-factly. Before the tragic event that plunged her into the foster care system, Mila had seen a ghost — an old woman — while she was living with her mother and her mother's unhinged boyfriend Blake. The farm is teeming with ghosts, including a dancing girl that Mila keeps fleeing because the girl's glow hurts her eyes. Terry can see them, Julia doesn't engage with them, Mila's fellow interns Billy and Liz interact with them, and Mila's student Lee is particularly troubled by one of the little ghost children.

LaCour obviously cares deeply about this story — about Mila, the supporting characters and the farm that enfolds all of them. Every detail necessary to our connecting with Mila is revealed gradually, giving us ample time to consider it before the next one comes. Even the all-lowercase, italicized chapter titles have their own pages, giving the reader a quiet space to pause every few pages and think about what they have just read, perhaps to mentally build their own cabin on the farm.

There are so many scenes, character moments and descriptions that ache to be reread and that make Watch Over Me a sanctuary for those in need of its heart and its care: The life that Terry and Julia have created on this farm that shows why so many foster children have flourished there; Mila and Lee growing as close as siblings; the duo of Billy and Liz becoming a trio with Mila; the image of the farm's tunnel of flowers, rows and rows of pure poetry in petals. The novel's ending is profound and offers further proof that writers are the magicians we always need.

Watch Over Me is ultimately a story about courage, explaining through Mila and Lee, Billy and Liz, and Terry and Julia, that what we have suffered in our lives, terrible as it may be, does not have to be all that defines us. It can strengthen us, or we can simply seek to let it go, but there's nothing wrong with us because of it. It's a potent message, and one well-served with Nina LaCour as its deliverer. The YA genre is fortunate to have her infinite heart.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2020, and has been updated for the February 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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