Book Review: Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser

Lily and Taylor by Elise Moserlily & taylor

Published: September 1st 2013 by Groundwood Books

Source: local library

Synopsis (Goodreads): After her older sister is murdered in a horrific incident of domestic abuse, Taylor begins a new life in a new town. She meets Lily, whose open, warm manner conceals a difficult personal life of her own, coping with her brain-injured mother. The two girls embark on a tentative friendship. But just when life seems to be smoothing out, Taylor’s abusive boyfriend, Devon, arrives on the scene, and before they know it, the girls find themselves in a situation that is both scary, and incredibly dangerous.

Abetted by Conor, a friend who owes him a favor, Devon takes the girls to a remote cabin. There is no heat, no food, no water. There is a hunting rifle, which Devon uses to intimidate the others. As he becomes increasingly agitated, and Conor threatens to bail, the girls engage in a silent battle of their own. Lily wants to escape, while Taylor feels hopelessly trapped by her relationship with Devon and uses sex and flattery to try to keep the situation calm. The cabin becomes a pressure cooker, filled with tension as the four teenagers wrestle with their anger, fear, resentment and boredom – any one of which could tip the situation into disaster.

From the opening moments when Taylor witnesses her sister’s autopsy to the final cathartic scene after the two girls have survived their ordeal, the reader is glued to every page of this frank, gripping and beautifully written novel that raises questions for every teenager. Do you need to be a certain way to get a boyfriend? Can someone who loves you also hurt you? How can a million small compromises eat away at who you are? What happens when you don’t think you deserve to be treated well? How do you end up in an abusive relationship, and what keeps you there?

Elise Moser goes deeply into the hearts and minds of Lily and Taylor, who in the end save each other in unexpected ways.

My thoughts: I picked this up out of the stack of new books at the library. It’s not often that a book comes in that I haven’t heard of yet (I checked this out before I started ordering all the YA books for the library) and its amazing cover and simple title hooked my interest. When I discovered it was about two teenage girls who were both survivors of domestic violence, I knew I had to read it for a project I’m working as well as add it to my ever-growing list of YA novels that deal with rape, sexual assault, and teen dating violence.

There is a lot of truth in this novel, which will make many readers uneasy and uncomfortable.  Taylor has internalized abuse so deeply  that she thinks she deserves it. Lily has become a keen observer of people so that she may anticipated and attempt to diffuse abusive situations. This books pulls back the curtain on ways of living some would rather not have to see. The characters are living in poverty, on the margins, without a social safety net. They are in survival mode. They are not the bright, accomplished teenagers you get in John Green novels.

Lily and Taylor is an intense read that definitely deserves praise. Still, I didn’t feel it was a perfect novel. The third person narration drifts back and forth between both girls perspectives, but the writing didn’t make it easy for me to distinguish between the two girls. I frequently asked myself whose head I was in while reading, which threw me out of the story.

While flashbacks and asides that tell stories from the girls past are integrated well and add the the character, I felt like transitions between events in the main plotline were choppy and abrupt. The first section of the novel explains how Lily and Taylor meet in fits and spurts, then the last two-thirds of the novel is about the two days Lily and Taylor spend trapped in a cabin with Devon and Conor.

Moser excels at creating the claustrophic, anxious environment in the second portion of the novel, and the character development is rich and detailed. Unfortunately, the prose is rather uneven. While some sentences I found myself lingering on for their sheer beauty, others felt forced and contrived, as if the author was trying too hard to be “literary.”

I appreciated this novel, even if I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it. The fierce and true approach to the sensitive subject matter makes it a welcome addition to young adult literature.

Recommended for fans of: Do you know readers or patrons who loved A Child Called It? I am always surprised at how many teens request this book. It was a favorite of students at the high school where I interned and is frequently requested by residents of the Juvenile Detention Center where we drop off books weekly. I’d recommend Lily and Taylor for these types of readers. Fans of popular YA novels like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or Dreamland by Sarah Dessen may also enjoy it, and it’s a great read-alike for other recent releases that deal with this subject matter, like Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian or Fault Line by Christa Desir.

Second opinions:

Edge of Seventeen: “Lily and Taylor is a story about being powerless (or at least perceiving yourself as powerless) in the face of violence and abuse and trauma. But that’s not all the book is; it’s also a story about love and friendship and strength.”

Unexpected Twists and Turns: “Author Moser takes plenty of risks with Lily and Taylor, never shying away from the realities and darkness of domestic violence. While this is fine fiction, it also provides an eerily accurate depiction of an abusive relationship as it ebbs and flows. This was an intense read, one that I could not put down.”

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