Saturday, 3 March 2018

Along the Indigo

Along the Indigo

by Elsie Chapman

4 out of 5

The town of Glory is famous for two things: businesses that front for seedy, if not illegal, enterprises and the suicides that happen along the Indigo River. Marsden is desperate to escape the “bed-and-breakfast” where her mother works as a prostitute—and where her own fate has been decided—and she wants to give her little sister a better life. But escape means money, which leads Mars to skimming the bodies that show up along the Indigo River. It’s there that she runs into Jude, who has secrets of his own and whose brother’s suicide may be linked to Mars’s own sordid family history. As they grow closer, the two unearth secrets that could allow them to move forward . . . or chain them to the Indigo forever.

Marsden wants nothing more than to escape the small town of Glory, with all its ghosts, and dead-end future. Until she meets the brother of a suicide victim, and starts to ask the right questions.

I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was initially drawn to this because the main character is a girl called Marsden, something I've never come across before; and because it sounded intriguing.

I think I was expecting a mystery, with teenage kids solving murders, etc.
And... it did kinda involve that, but mainly it was a deeply moving coming-of-age story for Marsden, who works as a cook and cleaner in the brothel where her mother "works".
It's about her devotion to her innocent little sister, Wynn, and how far she will go to protect her.
It's about being shackled to the cursed land her family inherited, where it is rumoured that people can cleanse their souls by touching the dirt on the land, before committing suicide.

Mostly, it was weird. But the weird kinda worked.

It's set in the 80's, and it follows Marsden as she turns sixteen, and the pressure is suddenly on. She needs to make enough money to get herself and her sister as far away as possible, before Nina (the brothel owner) forces her into prostitution.
Nina is a cold, conniving woman, and thinks nothing of selling the body of the girl she has practically been a surrogate mother to, and watched grow up.
When Marsden's father died, he left them with a lot of debt, which Nina has stepped in to shoulder. In return, Marsden and her mother work for her. Nina goes on to reduce Marsden's wages in the name of paying the debt off, trying to coax her into the more financially-rewarding job of being one of her "girls".
Fortunately, Marsden has a side job. The covert (the cursed family land) is a major lure for those that feel there is no other way, and people travel from all over the country to commit suicide on the land. Marsden has got into the habit of checking the covert every morning, so she can report the bodies to the local police. At the same time, she skims them for any money they might be carrying, taking it for her escape fund.

So yeah, not your conventional coming-of-age story.
It does focus a lot on prostitution and suicide, but they are written in a way that makes them feel normal and humdrum - for Marsden, at least. At no point does it trivialise these themes, I found the book very respectful throughout.

The story starts off slowly, and even after she meets Jude in the covert (he's looking for answers about why his brother committed suicide), and they become friends, it still keeps ticking along at the same pace.
It was only about two-thirds of the way in, I realised how connected I was to these characters, and how I wanted to find out the mysteries that have been discreetly building.


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