Books|June 11, 2009|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-9815836-1-7
Darla McKendrick is nine when she first hears her mother and her aunt Didi secretly discussing their younger sister, Rebecca, speculating about her life in squalor. From the moment Darla asks to know more about her mysterious aunt, she is offered nothing but half-truths, distortions, and evasions. As Darla grows into her teen years, her life is oddly yet profoundly affected by this woman she has never known. She can’t help but notice that Rebecca seems to exist only in dark corners of conversations and that no one ever wants to talk about her – with Darla. Squalor, New Mexico is a coming-of-age story shrouded in family mystery. As the plot takes twists and turns, secrets are revealed not only to Darla but to the “secret keepers” as well. Darla learns that families are only as strong as the truths they hold and as weak as the secrets they keep.
Nine-year-old, Darla is eavesdropping on her Mom and Aunt Didi’s conversation but the only time they ever had this particular conversation was when they thought no one else was around. That topic happened to be, Aunt Rebecca, Mom and Aunt Didi’s youngest sister. Darla had never met her. Darla decided to let her presence be known so she could gather some information about this woman as she figured if she never asked then she’d never find out. She’d heard her Aunt Didi say to her mother: “I’m sure she’s still living in squalor…unless she’s screwed her way out!” Of course, at nine, Darla had no idea whatsoever what that meant so she popped up and asked: “What’s squalor, Mom?” Mom was startled to say the least at, Darla’s presence and inquired as to how long she’d been standing there. Aunt Didi quickly piped up and responded: “It’s a town in New Mexico, Darla. It’s an Indian name.” There was no way the women were going to discuss Aunt Rebecca with Darla around so they quickly sent her back to her bedroom to complete her book report for school.
As Darla grew older she began to notice that Aunt Rebecca was frequently the topic of conversation but always on the hush-hush and no one wanted to talk about her to anyone else, especially Darla, which, Darla thought was kind of weird. Darla’s life is very affected by this mysterious Aunt Rebecca but she still can’t get anyone to discuss this unknown Aunt with her, but why?
Both her father and her Uncle George seem especially rattled whenever, Aunt Rebecca’s name comes up and neither seems to know where to look or what to do. All Darla knows is that she isn’t to ask questions, period. Aunt Didi and Uncle George’s three daughters, April, May and June don’t know anything about this aunt either.
Squalor, New Mexico is a coming-of-age story that is smothered in the unknown and on the surface, the family has a good time but really underneath they are a family shredded, torn apart and in great pain. Didi and Maggie often argue over and talk about what a loser their youngest sister, Rebecca is but even they don’t know the whole story. They think they know what an evil, rotten, good-for-nothing person she is but one day the truth may just set them free.
I so loved this story and didn’t want to see it end. I wanted it to go on forever and wanted to learn even more about each of these characters right from Darla to her Mom, to Aunt Didi and Uncle George, her three cousins, April, May and June and even her best friend, Melanie. The story was so well-written that I felt as though I was standing inside Darla’s house sitting on a chair watching these two families interact. I could picture perfectly in my mind’s eye the layout of the house, could imagine the knick-knacks sitting around and could smell the pancakes, Maggie cooked. Squalor, New Mexico was a book I just couldn’t put down and I’m actually going to read it a second time it was that good and I enjoyed it that much. This is definitely a keeper!! Thank you Ms. Brodey for providing me with two days of entertainment that I lost my entire being in.