Judith Finch is an 18-year-old recluse, although not by choice. Shunned by her village for reasons she had no control over, Judith lives each of her days in Roswell Station silently doing her chores, avoiding conflict with her proud mother and helping to care for her younger brother Darrel.
Her life in the shadows of the village is borne by events that she experienced four years earlier, when she and her best friend Lottie disappeared within two days of one another. Two years later, Judith returns to the small town, alone and mutilated. Her captor, who she has finally escaped from, has ensured her silence by cutting out her tongue, rending her mute. With limited reading and writing skills, Judith is unable to communicate properly, and the township of Roswell Station, with its puritanical thinking and superstitious ideals, believes that she must have brought her cursed ‘condition’ onto herself through impurity. She is reviled and ignored by all those who once loved her, and sadly accepts this behaviour.
While she deals with her daily reality, Judith still clings to some parts of her former life. She fervently stalks Lucas Whiting, her childhood friend who she has always loved, looking out for him and leaving him fruits at his cabin. She muses about how her life would have turned out had she not disappeared, and wonders if she would have eventually married him. In her mind, she has conversations with him and tells him all her secrets- all the things that she can’t verbalise aloud. He, of course, is oblivious to her infatuation, and continues to go about his daily life, as do the rest of the people in the prosperous farming town.
But when Roswell Station is threatened with war by the Homelanders, who want the fertile land for themselves, Judith is forced to make a difficult choice. She has the chance to help save the town and its people, but it means potentially sacrificing herself and uncovering long-buried secrets. Her future is split into two possible paths- she can stay silent and watch the people who have reviled her suffer, or she can try to speak out, and risk changing the dynamics of her life, and the lives of those around her, forever. All that she knows is that her life will never be the same again…
It’s difficult to say when this young adult novel is set- the townspeople use muskets and bayonettes as weapons, they hold very patriarchal and puritanical ideologies, and girls have only just begun to attend lessons at the local school. I would assume that the events occur in the 1800s (although there is no way to say for sure), and while I am not usually a fan of books set in this time-frame, I found myself hooked by the storyline, with its themes of unrequited love, public segregation and mysterious secrets. Judith’s ‘voice’ is unique and intimate, and she expresses herself in a passionate and raw way that makes you empathise with her situation. Despite her disability, she is a strong character, and you can’t help but read on, hoping that everything works out for our unlikely heroine. This is such an original novel, and it will be well-worth your time if you decide to pick it up and read it for yourself.