February 14, 2000
Into the Free, by Julie Cantrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
From the Publisher: Just a girl. The only one strong enough to break the cycle. In Depression-era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds longs to escape the madness that marks her world. With an abusive father and a “nothing mama,” she struggles to find a place where she really belongs.For answers, Millie turns to the Gypsies who caravan through town each spring. The travelers lead Millie to a key which unlocks generations of shocking family secrets. When tragedy strikes, the mysterious contents of the box give Millie the tools she needs to break her family’s longstanding cycle of madness and abuse. Through it all, Millie experiences the thrill of first love while fighting to trust the God she believes has abandoned her. With the power of forgiveness, can Millie finally make her way into the free?
This is a book full of contrasts, of appearances that promise one thing but open up to reveal a totally different scene. Our heroine Millie's Mississippi in the 1930's and 40's is full of trees that sing, fascinating Gypsies, small farms, and enchanting forests. Look a bit further and you find drugs, gossip, abuse, and racism filling the beautiful land. Behind religious piety you find hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Within people on the fringe of accepted society you find honesty and compassion, and within those of the upper class, well, a lack of both. A creative young girl filled with life and energy turns out not to be a child at all, but an "old soul", as her mother has told her, who must forfeit childhood to survive the traumas of her everyday life.
I don't really care for novels with abuse, but I was so drawn into Millie's life that I couldn't help but keep reading. The words flowed like poetry, and I found myself smiling at the descriptions of how a character felt, how the landscape came alive, how the tree embraced the scared child.
The author's character development is superb. Millie's voice is so strong, so appropriate for a nine-year-old that I doubted the author would be able to continue making Millie believable as she aged. I was pleasantly surprised. I was so taken by Millie's story, by the cards she'd undeservedly been dealt in her young Life, that I wanted to jump into the pages and bring her into my own home. I cheered when people showed her kindness, raged when another hard knock threatened to rob her of any hope. I read straight through this book and was very disappointed when it ended. I will be anxiously awaiting the sequel.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the netGalley.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.