Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser
HarperCollins: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062400826

Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser is a highly recommended debut novel of suspense set during a blizzard in Northern Michigan. Read this one with a blanket and a warm beverage nearby.

Percy James, 16, drives off to try and find her meth addicted mother, Carletta, just as a blizzard bears down on the northern Michigan woods. Percy checks out the cabin of known cooker and dealer Sheldon Potter. After having to abandon her truck a mile or so from the house, Percy sets off on foot. When she arrives she doesn't find Carletta; instead she sees Sheldon passed out with his girlfriend in the living room. Thinking her mother might still be there in another room, Percy sneaks inside and heads upstairs. What she finds is a dead dog in one room and a baby in the other. In the baby's room the crib, with the name Jenna written on it, is by an open window where the cold and snow are rushing inside.

Deciding that someone needs to save baby Jenna, who Percy nicknames Sweetgirl, Percy grabs the baby and the bag nearby. She's going to go get this baby to safety while still trying to find her mother. Percy heads on foot carrying Jenna to the cabin of Portis Dale, an ex-boyfriend to her mother and the closest thing to a father that Percy has ever had. She and Portis then take off, battling the elements and trying to hide from the criminal thugs Sheldon has sent out to look for the baby after he woke up and found her gone. You read that right. After Sheldon comes to and realizes the baby is gone, he tries to find thugs beholden to his uncle to help him look for her before he takes off in a snowmobile to find her too.

Sheldon Potter is a foolish man and his constant drug usage is addling his thinking. Portis is a hard drinking, but caring, philosopher. Percy is a sixteen-year-old who is wise beyond her years and a scrappy fighter. She is a protagonist that you will be cheering for as she tries to overcome the elements and other forces against her while saving little Jenna. Having the blizzard bearing down on them and bad guys after them creates more obstacles, problems, and difficulties getting to the proper authorities or finding some help.

Chapters alternate between Percy and Sheldon, creating a tension as you follow what is happening. I'm going to have to admit that there were a few things that seemed a bit too pat, like Sheldon's tenaciousness and ability to get around even as he constantly is getting a buzz from something. The biggest stretch of credulity is Percy's inability to get help in this day and age. Sure, most of us would use our cell phones and call for help but Carletta (conveniently) sold Percy's and Portis, naturally, doesn't have one.

The writing is quite good, which really elevates the plot above a cliche'. The setting also does this as one doesn't usually think of meth cooking going on in the woods of northern Michigan. But Percy, however, is the real winner here. She is a great character and this acts as a thriller, as well as a coming-of-age novel. I liked the ending very much and hope to read more from Millhauser in the future

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

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