The Quiet You Carry – Nikki Barthelmess

none of us can understand what’s going on in another person’s life from the outside looking in. No one can really see the quiet you carry, unless you let them.

Victoria lives with her father, stepmother and stepsister. Well, she did until the night her father locked her out of the house. Suddenly this shy, studious 17 year old finds herself stuck attending a new school in a new town and living with a foster mother who appears to hate her. Everything she thought she knew about her life has crumbled around her in a confusing mess.

Foster care isn’t one size fits all in how kids wind up in care in the first place or their experiences once there. There are so many negative stereotypes about foster kids so I was delighted to discover that Victoria wasn’t a stereotype. It never occurs to her to quit school and give up on her dreams because of circumstances outside of her control. There’s no smooth sailing here but she’s determined to move on from this experience and not allow it to define her.

Victoria’s foster care experience, while it sounds horrendous, is fairly average. Some foster kids fortunately land in families that provide the love, protection and encouragement they so desperately need and at the other end of the spectrum there are those who wind up in abusive situations that mimic those they were removed from. The portrayal of overworked caseworkers is sadly realistic and the shame of being a foster kid is all too real.

Nikki Barthelmess notes that while this book is fiction, she spent a number of years in foster care herself. I think it’s a testament to Nikki’s resilience that she has managed to articulate so well the way foster care feels. While there are some minor details in the way things unfold in the story that I could perhaps question (and will in a minute) I have nothing but praise for the authenticity of Victoria’s feelings from beginning to end.

I loved that Victoria has Christina and a boy named after a vegetable supporting her the entire time, before they know her story and, even more importantly, after. She also has supportive teaching staff, who truly can make a world of difference in a foster kid’s life.

I only hope that foster kids who read this book have someone in their corner as well because foster care can be such a lonely and terrifying experience. Even with support being a foster kid can make you feel so separate from other kids, who are worried about things like makeup and clothes while you’re worrying about the potential consequences if you tell the truth about what’s happened to you and where you’ll go next if this foster home doesn’t work out.

I found it difficult to believe (maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part) that in juvie a male worker would be responsible for searching a teenage girl. I would hope that if it was protocol to do a physical search for new arrivals that a female worker would do this for girls. I also found it weird that Victoria’s best friend doesn’t try to make contact with her when she drops off the face of the Earth; sure, Victoria doesn’t have access to a phone or social media anymore but her email account is still active.

Because of my own experiences and those of other foster kids I’ve known I had expected this book’s contents to be more brutal. I’m not saying everything is peachy or anything. My content warnings alone give you some indication of what to expect. I’m sure that what’s described in this book would be shocking for a lot of people so I expect I’m an outlier in this regard.

There needs to be more YA and kid’s books about the foster care system. When I was in the system I would have loved to have seen any aspect of my experience mirrored by a character I was reading about. This book will hopefully be an eye opener for people who don’t know the foster care system from the inside and provide much needed empathy and validation to those who find themselves fostered, for whatever reason.

Content warnings include foster care, grief, sexual assault, family violence, physical and mental illness, eating disorders, self harm and a suicide attempt (the method used is included).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flux, an imprint of North Star Editions, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behaviour toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine – until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights. 

Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams … all while keeping her past hidden.

But some secrets won’t stay buried – especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?

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