Fifteen year-old runaway Tessa Minor is forced to return home after being caught shoplifting some food from a grocery store. She dreads the moment she has to face her father again, knowing he’ll make her pay for every hour she’s been on her own. She wakes in the back yard shed at home, battered and bruised from her father’s punishment. When she’s finally able to return to school, Tess dodges questions from her friends but can’t help feeling curious about the new girl, Heather, who speaks openly about her faith and is warm and kind to Tessa. In the midst of a violent altercation at home, Tess escapes through her bedroom window and runs to Heather’s home, where her grandparents take care of her. Gradually, their steadfast love and faith permeates Tess’s home life, and Tess begins to see changes even in her parents’ behavior. But after living in filth and terror for so long, Tess isn’t sure she can trust that the changes are for real or that they erase the horror of her past.
Tessa’s immaturity and tenaciousness made her a believable girl in her early teens, though her bad attitude was sometimes a little much to swallow. Wiltrout captures the chaos and uncertainty of life with an abuser, but it was difficult to understand why Tessa’s mother stayed with him, since she didn’t seem really dependent on him. The spiritual journeys each character takes were largely believable and authentic. Often the critical moment came not through conversation with another person but because of it, which feels more true to life. Forgiveness and consequences were also nicely balanced in a story which deals with redemption of someone with a serious criminal history.
While some of the story elements were a little underdeveloped, Wiltrout shows an overall good sense of story and character development as well as a nice grasp of how to authentically incorporate spiritual awakening into her scenes.
When Tessa meets Heather and her grandparents, she also wins an introduction to their faith as Christians. Soon Tess begins to see God moving through her small family.
Tessa’s father mercilessly punishes her for running away and anytime she makes a mistake. Angry and brutal, he beats her severely enough for her to lose consciousness.
Tess’s dad also demands she help him concoct methamphetamine in an abandoned structure. While Tess never uses the drug, she suffers physical consequences from exposure to the chemicals used in the process. No ingredients are named, nor is the process described in any detail. Participants ultimately serve time in jail.