My Name Is Venus Black: A Novel by Heather Lloyd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's taken a bit to formulate my thoughts about My Name is Venus Black. This is a wonderful book with a truly memorable central character in Venus Black and I know that someone is going to snap up the film rights to it in no time. While formulating my review, I looked up the literal meaning of bildungsroman because I wasn't sure I could rightly apply it to a novel in which not just the protagonist but literally everyone in her sphere undergoes significant psychological and spiritual growth. It's a coming of age story in which adults grow up, too. The children of the story, from Piper to Tessa to Leo to Venus herself, are all so well developed, with the real quirkiness of childhood that any parent can appreciate, and they mature into wonderful people.
We first meet Venus Black when she is a scared, angry thirteen-year-old girl in police custody for having committed a (truly) shocking crime. She has just urinated on herself and as the kind policewoman gives her a change of clothes and a series of detectives, attorneys and therapists try to help her, she remains angrily silent and uncooperative. All she knows is that her mother Inez has failed her in every respect and her unrelenting anger and justifiable outrage burns intensely. However, Venus also worries constantly about what will become of her autistic younger half-sibling, Leo, the one person that she loves without reservation. Her fears become heightened when, while in police detention and awaiting trial for the awful thing she did, Leo disappears. Inez, her flawed-to-her-marrow mother, blames Venus for that, too. This early section of the book is utterly heartbreaking, especially to anyone who has worked with children in the juvenile justice system and knows that things really can play out like they do for Venus. (In my own state, she'd have been tried as an adult.) But hang in there. This is a story not just of redemption but of quiet human triumph.
When we next meet Venus she is nineteen years old, newly released from probably the nicest juvenile prison center ever, and now going by the name Annette in order to try to forge a new life for herself without all the baggage that comes with being Venus Black. As "Annette" builds a new life in Washington, we also keep pace with Leo, whose own story has developed along a parallel timeframe with Venus's in California.
Venus's spiritual evolution, from overcoming her anger and guilt to coming to a place of forgiveness of her mother's immense failures forms the core of this story. But there is similar growth in the secondary characters, as well. From the watershed moment when Inez faces her failures, to balancing Tessa and Tony's warm and loving enrichment of Leo's life with the human costs of their decisions, to Danny's written revelation, we root for these characters and for a happy resolution.
This is a triumphant debut novel by an author I look forward to reading more from in the future.
I received a Digital Review Copy from Net Galley and a paper review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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