"You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There's no forsaking kin. But you can't help when kin forsakes you or when strangers come to be family"
Deep in the Ozark Mountains, in the town of Henbane, there are many secrets and very few answers. The majority of the book focuses on a sixteen-year-old girl named Lucy Bane. She is sometimes treated as an outsider in her close knit community, even though she was born there. It is because of her mother that she is treated so differently.
Lucy's mother, Lila Petrovich, hails from Iowa by way of Lucy's uncle, Crete. She is an orphan who lost her family in a car accident and has no one who will take her in. Crete brings her in and offers her room and board and cash in exchange for work that she does on his property.
Lila is young and beautiful and it doesn't take long before someone invents a rumor that she is a witch and has placed a spell on the men of Henbane to fall all over her. In some respects, she finds it quite amusing. Although weary at first, she does form a friendship with her neighbor, the ever so feisty and self-reliant woman named Birdie. Lila and Birdie become so close that eventually Birdie happily takes on the job of a grandmother and guardian to Lucy, since Lila's mother is dead and her husbands mother is senile and in a home that is well equipped to handle her illness.
When Lucy is a newborn, her mother vanishes and it is legend that she ran off and killed herself considering her gun is missing as well. This has been the story that Lucy has always known and never really questioned until one of her childhood friends, Cheri, turns up dead.
Cheri was lucky to have Lucy as a friend as she was considered the town retard. I am not using that word in jest, no she was slow and had a very low IQ and just seemed to wander around and in most cases, following Lucy. She lived with a mother who thought that she was useless and undermining and without truly understanding her daughter as a person. Actually, the whole town doesn't take the time to know her or ever mention her until she is found butchered to pieces, and then she is the talk of the town.
Lucy eventually decides to look into her murder and the reason why she was missing for an entire year before she was murdered, and in addition to trying to put those pieces together (no pun intended) she also starts digging around for any information that she can find about the disappearance of her mother. In the process, she will bring to light some things that she may wish she hadn't, but knows that she is doing it for the sake of these missing women.
The book is told from the different perspectives of each character in various chapters. I tend to like this style of writing as I like to peak in the minds of everyone involved and get a feel for their personalities better as well as their points-of-view.
Sometimes when I am reading books of small and corrupt towns, I like to look and see the deeper meaning of its name if there is one, and was pleased when finding the definition of Henbane.
Henbane: a coarse and poisonous Eurasian plant of the nightshade family, with sticky hairy leaves and an unpleasant smell
I think that the definition of Henbane is a perfect representation of the town described in this novel. I looked at it as a shady and poisonous town with an unpleasant smell, but then that is how I think of most small towns where outsiders aren't welcome and most people turn a blind eye to evil doings.
I found that one of my favorite characters, Birdie, always had some metaphor for everything and I loved reading them:
"You didn't wait for snakes to come out of their den, according to Birdie. You poured the den full of gasoline."
One day Lila led Birdie over to the tree line to show her some nightshade, and Birdie explained the medicinal uses and the deadly ones, then got to rambling about other names for nightshade-belladonna and devil's cherry and henbane and so on. She left out how belladonna was said to take form of a beautiful deadly woman, because certain folks in town had drawn the comparison to Lila.
She also had tidbits of information that I found quite useful:
"I seemed to remember Birdie telling me hedge apples kept away spiders." (GOOD TO KNOW!)
Birdie wasn't the only one with those quotes that make you stop and think. The local attorney/judge had one that I thought was equivalent to that small town metaphor that can make a lot of sense:
"Look at whom you know and think about how well you know them. Open your mind to the possibilities; rethink things you've taken for granted. Like we tell the kids in Sunday School: Just because you don't see the devil doesn't mean he isn't there. He doesn't carry a pitchfork." (Hmmm...I think I may know of few devils then. Yes, I am almost positive)
The one thing that I have a hard time with when reading a book is when a word is a bit over used. I spot it out so quick and once I do, it becomes overbearing to me. In this book, I found that the word tethered was used once too many and I found that to be a bit distracting after the third time I saw it used for various things.
With all of that being said, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel. I felt connected to the story and found the characters to be very believable. I also found the descriptives of the town subtle, but enough that I could envision this creepy and poisonous place and all the occupants within.
I received an advanced copy through Netgalley and the publisher of this book.