Pages in the Wind by Sally De Smet begins in jail. Emily Quinn murdered her father and is in pretrial confinement awaiting an evaluation by Dr. Lieberman, a state hired-psychiatrist. In a series of meetings, Emily will undergo hypnosis as Dr. Lieberman takes Emily back in time as far as she can remember in an attempt to find any factors in her past that can be used in the mitigation phase of the trial. Results of Emily’s treatment will determine the exact charges to be filed and, ultimately, the amount of prison time she will serve. Dr. Lieberman has another, more humanitarian and personal goal. He believes that Emily is broken but can be fixed. She will be able to lead a “normal” life if she can come to a self-realization of who she is and why she acted in ways she did throughout her life. This includes her family relationships, romantic relationships, and social relationships in general, such as at school. From the beginning of the novel, Emily cannot remember clearly the events surrounding the killing of her father but everyone, including her, accepts the fact that she did it.
The story unfolds as Emily is first hypnotized and assigned a period of time in her life to review. Once out of hypnosis, Emily and Dr. Lieberman will do a post-session analysis to discuss what has been discovered. Her entire life is a series of secrets and cover-ups. Her parents won’t discuss the death of her twin sister Penelope. It becomes the first big secret Emily wants to be revealed. The cover-up of that secret might be the reason for the horrible abuse Emily suffers at the hands of her parents. Her mother is cold and impersonal, frequently giving one-word answers to any question. Emily tries to show her mom accomplishments from her schoolwork and drawings she makes as a hobby. Her mother ignores her and refuses to look or make comments on the offerings. This emotional abuse is far overshadowed by the emotional and physical abuse given Emily by her father. Repeatedly calling her ugly, stupid, and incompetent for over a decade was emotionally scarring. Kicking her repeatedly in the back and ribs, spitting in her face, and pulling out chunks of her hair was the physical component of the abuse. A reader might even suspect sexual abuse; that is what keeps the pages turning.
The only bright side to her life is a romantic relationship with Reid. In the early parts of the story, the reader will note that is not much of a bright side. Reid can only support Emily after he has totally achieved his own needs; he comes across as a bit of a narcissist. There is a school friend, Pudgy, who is a true and platonic friend. It is easy to see why Pudgy has few to no school friends (it’s in the name) but this does not hinder a relationship with Emily; she even tries to defend him.
Characters in this novel carry the story well. Reid had to be shallow, Pudgy had to be the one picked on at school and then later revealed as a strong character on his own terms. Emily is portrayed as confused and the author’s description of her rising through layers of increasing understanding and self-realization is masterful. Emily’s mother and father are monsters. There is so much horror here that many parents might find it difficult to read. I hope that any young adult readers will not identify the family relationship here as similar to their own. If they do, I hope they can be made aware that there are government social service agencies that can help. One of the tragedies described her is how Emily continued to believe that things were her fault, that if she strived to do better, mom and dad would change. That can end up with someone dead. Ask Emily.
The last chapter “Dueling Intensions” is not a misspelling or typo; it is a clever title for what is happening in the chapter. This is a rather surreal chapter about experiences on the journey towards death. Maybe Emily is going to die, maybe she will live, she hasn’t decided. Readers may see a parallel with If I Stay. In this final chapter, the author gives her creativity full rein. It almost changes the writer’s voice. Due to its surreal nature, this single chapter might not be for everyone. It was the only part I didn’t enjoy and it led me to give it an Amazon 4.5 star rating rather than 5 stars.