Wonder When Youíll Miss Me is a difficult book to review. Itís often uncomfortable, strange, even appalling, and yet itís almost impossible to stop reading. Author Amanda Davisís first novel manages to incorporate mental illness, sexual assault and the circus in a twisted tale about a 16-year-old girl named Faith Duckle.
After being assaulted by a group of sadistic schoolmates, Faith attempts suicide and ends up in a mental institution. Upon her release, the formerly overweight Faith loses nearly 60 pounds and hopes this will change everything. It doesnít, of course. Faith still feels out of place, and has the nagging feeling that the boy she has a crush on was involved in her assault. To complicate matters further, she is constantly followed by the Fat Girl, a hallucination who constantly reminds her of her former self.
Itís the Fat Girl who goads Faith into committing an act of revenge that forces her to run away from home to a traveling circus, where she becomes an elephant groom under the name Annabelle Cabinet. Along the way, there are numerous complications and encounters with people easily as disturbed as she is, including Charlie, the troubled older brother of one of Faithís fellow patients at the mental hospital.
Davis weaves a complex yarn held together by an oddly compelling central character. And yet itís almost too self-consciously quirky for its own good. The device of the Fat Girl is particularly annoying and obvious. True, the character acts as a catalyst that drives the action, but must Faith always view the hallucination eating, and with food smeared all over her face? Such details seem painfully over the top.
I also would have liked to see Faithís circus co-workers drawn in a bit more detail. We get tantalizing glimpses of the circus folk Ė Elaine, the kind but no-nonsense owner; her temperamental son, Sam; Wilma, Faithís circus roommate Ė but none of them really becomes a fully realized character. In fact, aside from Faith and the Fat Girl, Charlie is the only character who seems real, but he disappears halfway through the novel and, when he pops up again at the end, he seems far less interesting.
Still, itís clear that Davis is a talent to watch. Her knack for capturing both the excitement of a circus performance and the often tedious hard work that goes on behind the scenes is undeniable. And the character of Faith is never less than fascinating, as she struggles against her own dark instincts, trying to trust and reconnect with people after being so shockingly betrayed by her peers.
Davis also has come up with a very clever ending. I donít wish to spoil it, but letís just say that, after closing the book, I realized that Davis had timed her story so that it was over when the fat lady sang.