Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My Name Is Venus Black

My Name Is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd
Random House Publishing Group: 2/27/18
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 978039959218

My Name Is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd is a highly recommended debut coming-of-age novel that explores the repercussions of two crimes on two siblings. This is for mature YA readers.

It is 1980 and Venus Black is thirteen and living in Everett, Washington with her mother and stepfather. She is a good kid, straight A student, and loving sister. Venus is enamored with astronomy and wants to be an astronaut. While she refuses to talk about what happened the night she killed Raymond, her stepfather, she does blame her mother, Inez, for reason why it happened. We don't learn what happened until the end of the book, but we do begin to understand that Venus wanted to protect herself and Leo, her developmentally challenged (autistic) younger brother from Raymond. While Venus is locked up awaiting trial,  her brother Leo is abducted and goes missing. Leo is seven, but looks much younger.

In 1986 at the age of nineteen Venus is released from the juvenile detention facility. Desperate to start over and try to live a normal life, she finds a job under a fake identity and tries to live a normal life in Seattle. She has no contact with her mother and Leo was never found. While Venus is trying to make a new life for herself, her past catches up with her and she realizes that she needs to face her past, talk to Inez, and try to find Leo.

The narrative follows Venus and what happens to Leo in alternating chapters in corresponding timelines. Both characters are treated with understanding, insight, and compassion. Leo's story line is particularly well-handled, considering the limitations the autism places on his ability to communicate with those around him. Lloyd has populated her novel with complicated well-developed characters, and handled them with empathy and compassion. There is a message about love, what constitutes a family, forgiveness, and the gray areas that can exist in determining what is right and wrong based on a legal foundation versus a humanitarian/emotional reaction.

While the plot moves along quickly and the narrative is very compelling, the actual writing is basically pretty simplistic. It is a YA novel, but that shouldn't mean you need to eliminate all complex sentences or language. I was caught up in the story, however, and concede it is YA so I just went with the straightforward plot and the predictability of the end. I did have to suspend disbelief in a couple cases, one major enough to cause an eye rolling moment. Still, this ends up being a feel-good, heartwarming novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House Publishing Group via Netgalley.

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