Summary and book reviews of Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith

Marilou Is Everywhere

A Novel

by Sarah Elaine Smith

Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith X
Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Book Summary

Consumed by the longing for a different life, a teenager flees her family and carefully slips into another -- replacing a girl whose own sudden disappearance still haunts the town.

Fourteen-year-old Cindy and her two older brothers live in rural Pennsylvania, in a house with occasional electricity, two fierce dogs, one book, and a mother who comes and goes for months at a time. Deprived of adult supervision, the siblings rely on one another for nourishment of all kinds. As Cindy's brothers take on new responsibilities for her care, the shadow of danger looms larger and the status quo no longer seems tolerable.

So when a glamorous teen from a more affluent, cultured home goes missing, Cindy escapes her own family's poverty and slips into the missing teen's life. As Jude Vanderjohn, Cindy is suddenly surrounded by books and art, by new foods and traditions, and most important, by a startling sense of possibility. In her borrowed life she also finds herself accepting the confused love of a mother who is constitutionally incapable of grasping what has happened to her real daughter. As Cindy experiences overwhelming maternal love for the first time, she must reckon with her own deceits and, in the process, learn what it means to be a daughter, a sister, and a neighbor.

Marilou Is Everywhere is a powerful, propulsive portrait of an overlooked girl who finds for the first time that her choices matter.

Excerpt
Marilou Is Everywhere

I used to think my troubles got legs the summer Jude Vanderjohn disappeared, but now I see how they started much earlier.

Before that summer, the things that happened to me were air and water and just as see-thru. They were real but I didn't care for them much. I did not care for the real. It didn't seem so special to me, whatever communion I could take with the dust spangles, or the snakes that spun in an oiled way along the rotting tractor tires stacked up by the shed, or the stony light that fell in those hills and made the vines and mosses this vivid nightmare green. None of it had a purpose to me. Everything I saw seemed to have been emptied out and left there humming. I watched the cars. I read catalogs, which I collected and which my family called Cindy's magazines. My life was an empty place. From where I stood, it seared on with a blank and merciless light. All dust and no song. Rainbows in oil puddles. Bug bites hatched with a curved X from my ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. At the beginning, Marilou is Everywhere seems to fit the familiar trope of "girl goes missing in a small town," and yet it ultimately develops into something more unusual. How does the author turn this premise on its head? Is Jude the only one to go "missing" from her regular life? Think about the other female characters: Cindy, Cindy's mother, Bernadette. What about the male characters?
  2. The novel is vividly set in rural Pennsylvania and highlights the poverty and neglect in this area. What, if anything, do you think the author means to say about life in small towns and rural communities throughout America? What does she suggest about the vulnerability of teenage girls and women in general here?
  3. At the beginning of the novel the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Confident prose and intricate narrative structure mark Mary Lou is Everywhere as one of the most interesting first novels of this year, and its author as one of the most exciting young novelists for readers to follow...continued

Full Review (631 words).

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(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Sarah Elaine Smith’s remarkably accomplished debut novel casts a wondrous spell. Her brilliantly drawn young narrator, a young girl starved of maternal love and a stranger to human kindness, easily wins our sympathy...Marilou Is Everywhere has drama and poignancy, but its other source of delight is Smith’s stunning prose. Beautiful phrasings or original formulations glint on the page...we find ourselves swept along while marveling at a unique new voice.

NPR - Michael Schaub
Marilou is Everywhere is a novel of stunning emotional intelligence, and Cindy an unforgettable character, but it's Smith's writing that's the real star of the book. Her language is hypnotic and enchanting, with lines that read like poetry:

New York Times - Rachel Khong
This is a book interested in people not just unglamorous, but overlooked. It’s a book brimming with longing, with heartbreak. It’s a coming-of-age by coming into somebody else.

Booklist
This is a mysterious and strangely exciting debut. Smith is a poet, and writes in sensory-driven, soul-tapping prose...Literary-minded teens will find a kindred heroine in the wonderfully weird and wry Cindy.

Publishers Weekly
Smith’s rural world is brought to life with precise and devastating descriptions of poverty and neglect, though sometimes the lyricism of the prose doesn’t gel. Still, fans of Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling will appreciate Cindy’s toughened point of view and Smith’s close attention to the details of rural Appalachian life. This is a promising debut.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Smith, who never insults her characters by pitying them, captures this unstable world with matter-of-fact poetry, spare and sensual and surprisingly funny. Bleak and vivid; Smith's characters are as rich as her prose.

Author Blurb Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
Sarah Smith's debut, Marilou is Everywhere, is one of the most exquisitely written books I've read in a long time. Page after page I was struck by lines so unbearably beautiful and wise that by the final sentence I'd underlined most of the book...A haunting novel about craving escape so badly you're willing to erase yourself, by a writer I would follow anywhere.

Author Blurb Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
Marilou is Everywhere is everything. A missing girl story turned on its ear. That ear so close to the rural Pennsylvania ground that you'll know every goddamn goat and swimming hole, every derelict heart and jar of homemade blackberry wine...This is the rare book that wants for nothing.

Author Blurb Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot
Sarah Elaine Smith has one of the most likable and delightful writing voices I have encountered recently - funny, lyrical, sexy, sad, humane, and just a total pleasure to read.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Greene County, Pennsylvania, and Coal

Richard T. Foley Site Sarah Elaine Smith's Marilou Is Everywhere is set in Greene County, Pennsylvania, in the southwest corner of the state, bordering West Virginia. The novel vividly reflects the economic distress of the struggling communities and families that make up this county. It's a mostly rural area, with just under 39,000 residents in the last census; its largest town is the county seat of Waynesburg, population 4,200. Greene County's population peaked back in the 1950s at 45,000, and has been steadily diminishing since then, as opportunities for blue-collar employment continue to dwindle due to the ongoing decline of the once-vibrant coal industry.

As with much of West Virginia, this part of Pennsylvania was heavily reliant on coal mining for ...

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