Watch Over Me
by Nina LaCour
“What a wonder it was, to stand side by side with someone and watch the same thing.”
To be published Sept. 15, 2020 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA contemporary/fabulism
Date finished: May 9, 2020
Content warnings: discussions of past abuse
Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.
But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.
Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the Northern California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.
Watch Over Me is another stunner from Printz Award-Winning author Nina LaCour, whose empathetic, lyrical prose is at the heart of this modern ghost story of resilience and rebirth.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
For full effect, listen to “Someone to Watch Over Me” while reading this review, please and thanks.
In this short yet incredibly emotionally impactful novel, we follow Mila, who starts working as a teacher at a farm that takes in foster kids. As a former foster kid herself, she wants to help these kids in whatever way she can, but she’s unprepared when she starts to relive some of the memories from her past that she’s tried to leave behind.
I wasn’t sure how Nina LaCour could possibly top We Are Okay in my heart, and while I don’t think this one has topped it, it’s right up alongside it. If you liked We Are Okay, it’s safe to bet that you’ll like Watch Over Me too, since they have a similar feel, even if the stories are quite different. And if you haven’t picked up a Nina LaCour book before, well, now’s the perfect time.
Going into this book, you have to know what to expect. It isn’t action packed or plot heavy, but slow and internal, focusing more on characters and relationships and emotions. If that’s the kind of thing you like, then please read this book because it’s one of the best of its kind I’ve ever read.
From the beginning, it wasn’t the plot that grabbed my attention, but the writing. I felt like I was being wrapped up inside the book’s beautiful language, like I was there alongside the characters — tasting the salt in the air, feeling the chill of foggy mornings. Nina LaCour has a way of lingering on small moments and finding beauty within them. She can make something as simple as eating pancakes or gathering flowers into bouquets or peeling carrots together feel unbelievably beautiful in its simplicity.
There’s something truly magical about reading this book. At times you just want to hold your breath to let a moment fully sink in before you allow yourself to move on. I found myself tearing up multiple times throughout, and by the time I got to the end, all I could do was let out a little sob and then lie in bed and listen to quiet music for an hour. So all in all, a perfect reading experience.
Also: this is a ghost story.
When I first read this in the description, I thought it was metaphorical. It is not. The added element of fabulism only enhances the story and adds to the eerie, haunted atmosphere.
So much of this book is about trauma and loneliness and the process of recovery. All of the kids at this farm, including Mila, come from broken pasts, and even if they’ve found a new home, their pain doesn’t just go away. This book has so much to say about resilience, about the grief of losing your childhood to trauma and abuse, about how those things affect relationships and make it hard to trust. It shows that recovery is a lifelong process, but even though it isn’t easy, it’s possible. And it shows how important it is to find a home and family — even a chosen family — that makes you feel safe and accepted.
Essentially, this is a book about an emotional arc, and if it hadn’t been done well, it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting to read. Luckily, this is one of the best examples of a well-written emotional arc and I shouldn’t have doubted Nina LaCour for a second. The buildup and payoff is *chef’s kiss* perfect.
I really cannot say enough about how lovely and heartfelt and important this book is. It was so clear to me while reading how much Nina LaCour cared for her characters and for this story, and that love comes through in every word. Basically: read Watch Over Me for clear skin and a good cry.
“I’m learning that it’s good to think about what scares you. To bring it into the light. Even to hold it in your hands, if you can, and feel how it can’t hurt you anymore. To think of it and say, ‘I am not afraid.'”
*ARC PROVIDED BY EDELWEISS IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. QUOTES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.*