I will admit that I requested Tin Lily, by Joann Swanson, from Netgalley because it sounded like it might be sensational and melodramatic. Lily and her mother have left her father, until one night he shows up and shoots her mother. Now Lily's in mourning and trying to move on to a new life, with the threat of her uncaptured father still hanging over her head. I'll admit to kind of wanting an angsty thriller.
So any disappointment around those expectations were clearly my own fault; this is a story about someone who's been through loss and trauma and is trying to find her way back to feeling again. She's hollow and unconnected, without her mother, unable to understand how her once-beloved father has become this horrifying person, hoping that the aunt she's never been close to will keep her. It's about dissociation and flattened affect, about the inability to feel anything.
The second half of the book is much stronger than the first; in other circumstances, I might have put it down halfway through and given it two stars. It wasn't bad, per se, but there's not a lot there--a description of events, almost procedural in nature, like someone describing an episode of Law & Order from the point of view of a witness.
Really, it's about dissociation, flattened affect, and the sense of blankness that comes from trauma. Lily is made of tin because she's light hand hollow, with no room for feeling. So after a very brief scene of violence at the beginning, there's a LOT of going through the motions, which is not that interesting to read about. There are a few interesting observations of that sense of hollowness--her use of a thread, or train of thought, to keep herself from thinking the dangerous things, for example--but for the most part it's bare motions being gone through.
I might have put it down halfway through, but it was going quickly and I wanted to review it, so I kept reading, and the end was better. The process of Lily's healing gets more active--she makes a new friend, gets a good therapist, learns more about her parents' histories. It's a very mundane story of surviving trauma, which is kind of what I liked about these parts--the therapist is good and trustworthy, her new friend is human and helpful, and the self help book is actually useful. If she keeps some secrets that would have better been shared, well, her reason is relatively understandable, given her state of mind, and she changes course at a point where a reasonable person should be expected to.
But then, at the end, I got my action when Lily's father shows up to finish the job. I think Hank is the weak point in the whole thing--by trying to make him both realistic and human, he turned into kind of a parody of irrationality. He's clearly an alcoholic, but is he also schizophrenic? He was abused as a child, but how was he just a flat out great guy till he started hanging out with his dad? In trying to show how Lily and her mom could love him and stay with him so long, the frail human and abusive monster and loving dad got all jumbled together, and his psychology actually didn't seem to make much sense to me at all.
I don't know--as I read the book, I felt like it was probably two stars. By the end, I kind of wanted to give it three. Looking strictly at the labels Goodreads gives their stars (two is "it was okay" and three was "I liked it"), I think I'd be solidly in 2.5 land. I haven't decided how many I'll actually give. I'll be very curious to see what the author does next.
So there's my review. Do with it as you will.