Title: The Box Children
Author: Sharon Wyse
Number of Pages: 186
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/ Coming-of-Age
I didn’t know anything about this book going in, I just briefly glanced over the plot description at the local library and checked it out on impulse. However, I’m glad I did, because The Box Children turned out to be a incredibly compelling read. It’s very emotionally difficult because of the subject matter, but I found it to be worth it. This brief but affecting novel is narrated by Lou Ann, a precocious, introspective eleven-year-old living with a incredibly dysfunctional family consisting of her adulterous father, insane and brutally abusive mother, and unpredictable older brother on a Texas farm in the 1960’s.
Lou Ann decides to start a diary, but she had to do it without her mother’s knowledge because her mother is bent on completely and utterly controlling her younger daughter’s mind and spirit. Lou Ann is the victim of incestuous advances by her worthless father, and her mother’s behavior towards her seems extremely inappropriate as well. Her mom, Loretta, is pregnant and the family is waiting with baited breath to see if she will have another miscarriage, as she has had five already.
Lou Ann has five dolls that she keeps hidden from her mother that represent her mother’s five dead infants (the ‘box children’ of the title.) Lou Ann is just trying to make sense of her environment but then her mother’s punishments become increasingly cruel and sadistic as she punishes her family for her husband’s multiple affairs and demonizes Lou Ann for her increasing awareness of her sexuality. Some of the child abuse in The Box Children seemed over-the-top, but no more so than true stories like A Child Called It. Some of the scenes were excruciatingly hard to read because of the way Lou Ann was treated by the members of her family, it was like watching a train wreck.
I quickly fell in love with Lou Ann, plucky and wise beyond her years, and I sped through the book eager to find out what would happen to her. Child narrators are incredibly hard to write, but I think Sharon Wyse really pulled it off. Lou Ann is youthful and innocent but her voice doesn’t come off as contrived or precious. I’d go so far as to say that Lou Ann is one of the most engaging child protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. I’m curious why Sharon Wyse hasn’t written any more books, she’s clearly a talented writer who knows how to engage the reader’s emotions and keep them turning pages.
The ending of The Box Children isn’t fairy tale happy, and it might frustrate some readers that they aren’t ultimately offered a great deal of closure, but I thought the way the author chose to end things was ultimately satisfying and, unfortunately, realistic. I wanted somebody to swoop in and save this little girl so bad, but Lou Ann ends up using all the resources she possesses to withstand her parent’s abuse and the tough and grueling road she no doubt has ahead of her. I would like to see a sequel to this book that continues Lou Ann’s story but since this book was published in 2002 and the author hasn’t written anything since I find myself wondering if she’s done with writing. It’s a shame because she wrote a hell of a debut novel that will stay with me for a long time.