LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY
by Ellen Wittlinger
Merit Press, 269 pages
reviewed by Kristie Gadson
Ellen Wittlinger’s Local Girl Swept Away is a gripping story of loss, denial, and deception wrapped up in a page-turning mystery that’s hard to put down. When Lorna is pulled underwater during a storm, her death shakes the community of Providencetown, but no one is more shaken than her best friend Jackie Silva.
Lorna was everything Jackie feels she isn’t: untamed, beautiful, brave, and outgoing—not to mention lucky enough to have had Jackie’s crush, their best friend Finn, as her boyfriend. Jackie is the undisputed number two and it’s something she has accepted about herself. But, with Lorna gone, life becomes confusing and uncertain. Who is she now?
In Lorna’s absence, Jackie slowly builds the strength to rediscover parts of herself she had forgotten. Her love of photography takes on a new fervor and, through the camera lens, she experiences the parts of her life that still hold meaning. Her increased volunteer work at the Jasper Street Arts Center opens doors that she didn’t know could be opened: a chance at getting into her dream school, the Rhode Island Institute of design, and a budding relationship with the talented (and much older) JSAC fellow Cooper Thorne. Most importantly, Jackie finds comfort in her classmate Charlotte, rekindling a friendship long abandoned.
Through her melancholy, refreshing, and witty voice, Jackie tries to navigate a world without her best friend. Her raw memories of Lorna are so vibrant and colorful that Lorna practically jumps off the page, smiling her wry smile and beckoning the reader to join her in the light-hearted mischief she is so famous for. Wittlinger cunningly uses this framework, Jackie’s engrossing first person narrative, to produce an image of Lorna that slowly and methodically unravels.
As she continues to lament the death of her best friend, Jackie realizes that not everyone sees Lorna as the fantastic girl she once knew. They see her as a completely different person, someone that Jackie doesn’t recognize. Even her friend Charlotte tells her:
“Actually I felt kind of sorry for her. She seemed so needy. She was the queen bee, but she needed you to buzzing around her all the time, telling her how great she was. It was like she was starving and you had to constantly feed her.”
This is the first of many revelations Jackie has about Lorna, challenging her views in ways that she has trouble accepting. When facts about Lorna don’t add up, Jackie begins to question what happened the day of Lorna’s death. The mystery that ensues causes Jackie to abandon everything she thought she knew about her best frien
This is where the book poses a daunting question: How well do we really know someone? Through Jackie’s narrative, Wittlinger draws attention to the fact that our view of others is largely shaped through memory, solidified through emotion and reinforced by perception. We may form an idea of who someone is rather than see them for who they really are. This can lead to pain, betrayal, and loss. As Jackie narrates:
Yeah, [Lorna] was my fantasy, but I could never deal with the reality of her.
The book teaches us an invaluable lesson, one that is painful to endure and even more painful to come to terms with: people are not always who we think they are. It’s something we have to learn the hard way in life and, picking up a book like this, especially if you are a teen, can, if not spare, than, at least, ease the inevitable heartache to come.
The mystery of Lorna’s death will keep readers at the edge of their seats but it’s the subtle cleverness of the narrative that is most striking. Lorna’s death isn’t just about falling into the breakwater that day. It’s the deconstruction, and the destruction, of the Lorna Jackie thought she knew.
The picture I’d wanted to take was of the person I wanted Lorna to be.The Lorna who would stop moving and wait for me.
Kristie Gadson is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s in English. But, formalities aside, she knew that children’s books would become her passion when she found herself sneaking into the children’s section of Barnes & Noble well after she turned eighteen. She is a strong advocate for diverse children’s books, and writes diverse children’s book reviews on her blog The Black Sheep Book Review.