When you are a teenager, sometimes the world seems dark, unbearably centered around and focused on you. Martha Brooks returns us to those feelings of trauma and tragedy in True Confessions of a Heartless Girl.
This is a story ostensibly about 17-year-old Noreen and her attempts to find her place in the world. Awkward in the way every teenage girl is, Noreen tumbles from one disaster of her making to another. Profoundly clueless about her own heart because of a mildly-abused and semi-abandoned childhood, Noreen is unable to recognize love and caring when she does encounter it. When she drives into the tiny Manitoban town of Pembina Lake in her ex-boyfriend’s stolen truck she is shattered, exhausted and possibly pregnant.
We see the town clearly, even though Noreen does not at first. Lynda, the struggling single mother who owns the town’s failing cafe, takes Noreen under her wing. Dolores, grandmother to the entire town, who proudly wears a shirt that says MEDDLER FOR JESUS, feeds her mint tea and some hard advice. Del, who works endlessly on a cottage in which no one lives, offers her the cottage and a chance for redemption in return for a “full accounting”. Mary, Dolores’ life-long friend, suddenly grown snappish and hurtful; Seth, Lynda’s 5-year-old son; even Tessie the dog, all have their own problems. Noreen perceives herself as the cause of all this trouble.
Yet gradually, as Noreen begins to mature under the guidance of so many helpful strangers, we learn that troubles come to all of us, that thirty-year-old heartaches are just as deep as those we feel at 17, and can seem just as unsolvable to those involved. Brooks brings us to the edge of that cold lake of frightened adolescence that still lives in each of us. “What if she says no and laughs?”, “What if he doesn’t love me after all?”
Then she tosses us in, and laughs at our affronted pride.
This is not a novel about a girl in trouble. It’s a story about the ordinary, everyday troubles that we all have, and the way that sharing diminishes them. It’s about love in all its manifold dimensions. And it’s about the redemption that can come to any of us from making a true confession and rendering a full accounting.
I recommend it for readers of any age.