REVIEW: FINDING CASEY BY JO-ANN MAPSON

Finding Casey
Author: Jo-Ann Mapson
Bloomsbury RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

PictureA vivid and emotive portrait of family ties, Finding Casey is a beautiful story of discovery and lives coming full circle. The story picks up several years after Solomon’s Oak (2010) left­ off; I read that a couple of years ago and loved it, so the chance to find out “what happened next” was not one I wanted to pass by. Solomon’s Oak introduced Juniper, a wary, traumatised teen whose sister went missing without a trace, to Glory, a foster carer trying to pick up her life after her beloved husband died. Although Finding Casey can be read as a stand alone book, reading the first book will enrich the experience.

In Finding Casey Glory and her new husband Joseph have moved to Sante Fe, a house in New Mexico they’ve been renovating for several years. Now 41, Glory is pregnant with her first child; she’s scared and excited all at once by what that means for her and her life. Juniper, who Glory and Joseph have now adopted, is 19 and at college studying anthropology. She visits Glory and Joseph regularly, is in love for the first time with a parasitical young man (she of course, can’t see that side of him), and doing well at school. But her heart still bleeds for her sister Casey. What happened to her? Why did the police never find her body? None of her friends know anything about the past she’s buried, but Juniper’s pain is only just below the surface. And when a fieldwork course takes Juniper to a pueblo only a few hours away, she finds herself right back in the past, with answers finally within her reach.

Glory and Juniper’s stories (third person narrative) are interwoven with the story of Laurel Smith, a young woman caught up in an opportunistic cult. Laurel’s story is told in the first person, which tells the reader early on that she is significant to the plot; she is a young woman who has left the cult to seek medical help for her seriously-ill daughter, but trying to keep her guard up against the questions of social workers and well-doers at the hospital. When a chance meeting brings her together with Juniper, Laurel sees that breaking free from the cult is not as impossible as she had thought.

My first impression of this came from simple advice often given to wannabe writers: write what you know. Mapson’s fresh, colourful and vibrant descriptions of New Mexico landscapes, towns and weather reflected her skill in this area. Her descriptions were like a recipe for travel – I felt transported to the setting. It was a lovely insight to the American southwest.

Threading through the story is the concept of spirituality and how people find solace and meaning in it. No “one way” is favoured by the author. Instead, her novel is peppered with characters who draw on spiritual sources whether for good or for bad. Joseph has native Indian roots and strong Catholic beliefs. Laurel is caught up in a cult which has changed from being Christian to Indian. A ghost, Dolores, inhabits Joseph and Glory’s house.There’s no judgment in it, just an acceptance that the spiritual side is part of life.

At times the plot was predictable and even a little too neatly tied up, but the strength of the novel lies in the characters Mapson creates, as well as the sense of place. The story really belongs to Juniper and Laurel as they discover new things about themselves, about life, and rediscover their past. I particularly like Juniper as a character – a young girl attracted to bones and anthropology – anything that involves reasoning and induction – mainly because of her desire to find out what happened to her sister: “I didn’t care if it meant I had to go to school for a thousand years, I knew that I wanted to be that guy, who can look at bones and tell their story.” Joseph, protective of his wife and adoptive daughter, is a lovely, giving man, the rock for all the hurting women in his life.

I read Finding Casey in two sittings – it was hard to put down because I was so drawn into the story. Like I said, it can be a stand alone, but so much better if you read Solomon’s Oak first.

Available from good bookstores and Bloomsbury Publishing. This copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury. Note: I reviewed this earlier in the year and posted it on my former Weebly blog … and have only now transferred it over.

Bookish treat: Churros … can’t help thinking they would go well here. Although, perhaps not when you’re reading.