Reviewed by Jody Uy
MARILOU IS EVERYWHERE
By Sarah Elaine Smith
288 pages. Riverhead Books.
For me, one of the coolest things about books is their ability to pull you into an entirely different world. Harry Potter was groundbreaking for me when I read it in high school (yes, I read it only in high school) because it showed me a life beyond the world of muggles. In Marilou Is Everywhere, we’re brought to a different world as well—but not one laced with magic and chocolate frogs. We step into a world beyond urban America—a setting that we’re all vicariously familiar with via movies, series, and other novels—and instead take a detour into the life of a young girl living in rural Pennsylvania.
Marilou Is Everywhere is an elaborate portrait of the 14-year-old Cindy in the form of a novel. Living in her humble home with two older brothers, an absentee mother who comes and goes months at a time, and a meager daily income from odd jobs spells out a life of very occasional baths down the river and an eternal craving for love and affection. When a girl in their small town goes missing, an unexpected chain of events leads to Cindy standing in as the lost teen to console her mother who has been driven to delusion by grief.
Despite being told from the perspective of 14-year-old Cindy, the novel is rather mature and strikingly insightful. We are pulled into the world of a young girl wrapped in want and melancholy. Living at the margins of society, she has come to understand the struggles of poverty, but all the same craves for affection and understanding from those around her.
Cindy’s story is painted in vivid yet realistic colors. It doesn’t have the rose-colored hue that some of the sweeter, more romantic stories tend to have, but is extremely striking in its frank storytelling. The narration is packed with description, and the world in all its complexity, detail, and dirt come into clear focus. The author is not afraid to show us the grimy and gloomy sides of Cindy’s life up to the smallest detail—the grease of her hair after not having bathed for days, the strong onion-like smell of an armpit, the crushing joy of affirmation from a mother who is not her own. While this aspect of the novel is undeniably praise-worthy, there are moments (especially as you’re just starting the book) wherein it becomes too much. There were some parts where the overload of senses and details to take in left me lost in the narration and description. When I wasn’t wholly focused on reading, I ended up finding myself needing to circle back several paragraphs to get on track.
The story may seem deceptively simple upon reading the blurb at the back of the book, but readers who plan to jump into this novel ought to know that it’s a very layered and not so straightforward read. The writing style can take a while to get used to as the author asks for your patience and calls on you to rethink the way you see and understand the world. Cindy’s voice and vision shine through as the core of the novel as it is her life we are trying to make sense of (and that she is trying to somehow figure out too).
Even I could see how dreadful my life was, but something about its ragged elements had combined in a way that was refreshing and funny and so much my own that I could eat it up and never be gotten at.
The world we find ourselves in as we sink deeper into the story is one that might be considered as rough and unrefined—stinky, dim, and dirty—but it is also poignant, comforting, and surprisingly not too different from our very own.
Limited copies of Marilou Is Everywhere is available at Fully Booked branches. Email us to reserve a copy.
Jody is currently an undergraduate student taking up Education and is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]