An eleven-year-old girl dreams of building a time machine to help her younger brother who has been traumatized by witnessing a horrible accident. At the same time, she has to deal with the overall dysfunctional state of her family which is caused by her father, a tyrant who emotionally and physically abuses all of them. The mother, whom the girl calls an amoeba because of her submissiveness towards her husband and her general passiveness in the face of the abuse, suffers the most under this reign of terror and is no help to the children.
This is an unusual and captivating coming-of-age novel that follows the girl for several years in her quest to save her brother and to find her own way in a cruel and bleak world. She is a determined and brave character, with a sharp mind and a gift for physics. Still, she never seems like an unrealistic character because on the other hand, she struggles with puberty, becomes infatuated with a neighbour, is afraid of her teacher’s wife, or attributes evil intentions to a stuffed hyena, one of the many hunting trophies her father keeps in the house.
The other characters, however, are not really tangible and often seem one-dimensional or too on the nose: the father who preys on his family is also an avid and cruel hunter, the mother who has been beaten into submission is no more than an empty shell, the little brother seems to perpetuate the cycle of abuse, and the neighbours and the girl’s physics teacher have hardly any discerning traits at all. I think that at least some nuances and subtleties wouldn’t have been amiss here. The same goes for the observations on the cycle of abuse and the way it is passed down. There are several instances in the book were it is more or less spelled out that all of the abusers have their own past that made them what they are, and it all feels too simplistic, especially in light of how graphically the abuse of women and children and the violence against animals are described throughout.
This is nonetheless a good book, but mainly due to the intriguing protagonist and the inclusion of some possibly magical or fantastic elements. They make the story vaguely reminiscent of a fairy tale which softens the impact of the characters’ bleak reality immensely. In the end, everything is wrapped up in a satisfying but fitting way, and something good can possibly come from an atrocity.