“Sharply observed and well-written, Layla’s story is both accessible and resonant, deftly tackling issues of poverty, neglect, and resilience. To get to know Layla is to understand the myriad challenges that many young people face behind closed doors and the fortitude required of them to survive against odds that are stacked against them. A powerful voice that is bound to make an indelible impact on readers.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Find Layla by Meg Elison is a hard hitting contemporary YA book with an endearing and memorable protagonist. The titular Layla is a fourteen year old girl who lives with her mother and younger brother in a less than ideal situation. It soon becomes apparent that she is dealing with neglect and abuse on a daily basis, not just at home but also from her peers at school who love to mock her ragged appearance. None of them know her closely guarded secret- she is living in squalor because her mother is unwilling and unable to maintain a home. Things have been going downhill for a while, faulty plumbing causing leaks and mould, a broken refrigerator that is now home to a thriving colony of maggots , a door that no longer opens so that Layla and her family are forced to climb in and out of a tiny window, the list goes on. Despite her hardships, Layla is determined to protect her little brother, and make sure that nobody finds out the truth until one day it gets to be too much and Layla ends up exposing it all on social media. Soon she finds herself alone and on the run from Child Protective Services, who are forced to investigate when her story goes viral , and she must figure out how to come to terms with her situation and find a way forward for herself and her brother.
This short book packs a huge emotional punch, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart. The descriptions of Layla’s family situation and living conditions are at times stomach churning , but unfortunately completely realistic. Layla herself is a wonderful character, smart , witty, strong and determined, it is impossible not to root for her as you read, and while the ending to her story is not a neat and happy one, it is perfectly in keeping with the rest of the book.
Overall I would describe this a difficult but impactful book, and one that I would recommend bearing in mind the author’s content warnings.
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Added 23rd November 2020