Book Review: What I Carry

Title: What I Carry
Author: Jennifer Longo
Date Published: January 31, 2020
Rating: 3/5 stars
Date read: December 1, 2020

What I Carry follows a 17-year-old high school senior named Muiriel who is soon aging out of foster care. She makes an active effort not to form attachments to her foster families and often moves houses, but during her last year she tries committing to one home.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about What I Carry. On the one hand foster care and/or adoption stories are stories that consistently have a strong emotional impact on me and I find the insight gained from them invaluable, and What I Carry was no exception to this. On the other hand all other aspects of the novel fell short for me. To start, I think this novel’s biggest weakness is in its writing. The author tries too hard to write from a teenage narrative, to the point where it feels forced. And while I appreciate that Longo attempts to tackle other important topics such as racism, and more specifically internment camps, I think had those topics been discussed with more nuance it would have left a stronger impact. The fact that Muir was always playing hero to the only two characters of colour also rubbed me the wrong way. I do appreciate the amount of research that went into the foster care aspects of this novel though, and when the book focuses on foster care I thought the novel was at its strongest. Muir’s flashbacks in particular were quite impactful. My one complaint in that regard though is that it would have also been more compelling to know more about what happens to some of the kids who do age out, as opposed to vaguely alluding to it.

In regards to characters, Muir was an interesting character to follow, and I could sympathize with what she was going through. I like that initially she was more subdued, but over time began to be more expressive, that gradual shift in demeanour was a great reflection of her character growth. I did find her attachment to John Muir a bit annoying at times though, and her arguments with Sean about conservation vs preservation felt more like trying to side the reader with preservation than actually providing concrete arguments to both sides. Speaking of Muir and Sean, I thought the relationship between the two lacked chemistry and that made it difficult for me to be truly invested in their relationship. I was always much more interested in scenes Muir shared with Kira or Francine as I thought those relationships felt a lot more genuine. The understanding between the women was clear and they all really respected each other which provided a solid foundation for their friendships. Muir’s interactions with Natan were really gross, and as the repercussions of her assault were minimally discussed, it left me with the feeling that Longo was trying to cram in as many social injustices into this novel as possible. The bullying narrative was probably the worst element of the story though, and seemed to only serve as a way to push certain characters into making certain decisions. That the bullies became irrelevant afterwards came across to me as sloppy storytelling. 

Have you read What I Carry? If not, do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Happy reading! 💗

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