Rain Village, by Carolyn Turgeon, was my choice for the first ever Spotlight Series on Unbridled Books! The story piqued my interest immediately. Tessa Riley is a very small 12-year-old living in a Kansas farming village with her very tall family. Her parents are very religious and don't think that Tessa or her siblings need to know anything besides how to farm land and sew. But Tessa is so small that she cannot help with the farming. So instead, she starts working with the new librarian, the sexy and fascinating Mary Finn.
Mary helps Tessa find herself, discovering a deep core of strength and self-esteem. Mary teaches Tessa to read and tells her stories about her home, Rain Village, and her stint as an acrobat in the Velazquez circus. These hours with Mary help Tessa deal with difficult conditions at home, but eventually Tessa must set out on her own. She does so, escaping to join Mary's former circus troupe and making a home for herself there. But even after making a new life for herself, she finds she can't quite keep the old life out.
I was absorbed into this book immediately! The author, Turgeon, is excellent at description. She makes Mary come alive, giving her flowing hair, a beaming smile, and a scent of cinnamon and cloves. She shows just how lonely Tessa feels, completely ill-at-ease in her skin and depressed about her future prospects. She describes circus life and Rain Village in great detail. And I think she does very well with the "magical realism" aspect, as though strange and wondrous things just happen and do not cause anyone to so much as blink. I felt so invested in the story and in Mary and Tessa.
But then, about 200 pages in, it just stopped working for me. Tessa felt a deep bond with Mary and when the two had to separate, she was deeply affected. But after Tessa made a wonderful, happy life for herself in the circus, she kept claiming that her old life would never leave her. That she had to have "closure." Personally, I have very little patience for people (real or fictionalized) who risk a great deal of happiness and trust and family in order to find "closure." What does that word even mean? How can you be sure that you'll get it? What happens when you get it? Does your life change for the better?
I also thought that, compared to Tessa and Mary, all the other characters seemed a bit one-dimensional. We know that the circus people are beautiful and vibrant, but we don't really get to know them well enough (except, perhaps, Tessa's mentor Lollie). Tessa claims to be in love with her husband, but I was unconvinced because I didn't know her husband well. I didn't feel sympathy for her compulsion at the end of the book (quite rushed in about 50 pages) to find out more about Mary because she seemed to have gone years without mentioning Mary to anyone. She doesn't like talking about Mary, even to the circus people who knew her well. And I didn't really feel invested in her decision because I didn't know much about the people around her.
While I think Turgeon used wonderfully evocative language and I enjoyed her use of magical realism, this book ultimately fell flat for me. I felt disappointed that I was so invested at the beginning, but at the end felt that no real resolution- on any level- had been reached. I was unsatisfied.
I believe Rain Village is one of Turgeon's earlier works, if not the earliest. So I plan to keep an eye out for her and see if I like the way she develops stories in later novels.
Note: The book blurb on the inside flap for this book gives away far too much information in my view! If you read this book and dislike spoilers, do not read it!!