CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 7. . . .October 18, 2013
Seventeen-year-old Taylor's life has changed dramatically. Since her mother's death, Taylor has been living with her older sister, Tannis, her sister's boyfriend, Bracken, and her nephew, Mason. When her sister is murdered by the boyfriend, Taylor and Mason move in with Gram and Gram’s partner, Douglas, and away from Taylor's own abusive boyfriend. Taylor takes responsibility for helping Mason through this traumatic time while she, herself, is grieving. Eventually, Taylor starts at a new school, begins a tentative friendship with Lily, and begins to feel some hope about her life and her future. Then Devon turns up. Angry at being left and wanting to teach Taylor a lesson, he forces Taylor to drive with him to a remote cabin. With them is Conor, Devon’s friend who owes him a favour, and Lily who jumped into the car before Devon could stop her. The four teenagers are trapped together with no food, no heat, and seemingly with no real plan but a very real gun. As Devon becomes increasingly violent, Taylor has to find the strength to save both herself and her new friend.
The opening chapter is a description of Taylor’s sister’s autopsy. With the first sentence being, “They stuffed her brain into her chest”, it is clear that this will not be a book for the faint of heart. Moser writes with brutal honesty the scenes of emotional, physical, and sexual violence and compliance. She contrasts the surgical sterility of the autopsy to the messy, complex, and ugly violence of life. These contrasts continue throughout the book: love and hate, power and weakness, fear and anger. Lily and Taylor is a compelling read but a very uncomfortable one.
The dramatic depiction of the cycles of violence is both disturbing and compelling. Taylor witnessed the brutal beatings of her sister at the hands of her boyfriend Bracken, yet instead of avoiding this type of relationship, Taylor replicates it with her own boyfriend Devon. Moser carefully shows how these cycles are reproduced by showing how Devon is also a victim of emotional and physical abuse heaped on him by his father. Moser doesn’t suggest that this is an excuse for replicating the violence, instead showing that the characters often have no other models to draw on and turn their own frustration into violence against others. Taylor finds herself becoming increasingly frustrated with little Mason, taking quick relief by hitting him, followed by immense guilt. All the relationships seem to be built on power. Gram, while not physically abused, is controlled by her partner Douglas. Lily’s brain damaged mother lurches from one abusive relationship to another. But nothing is clean and simple. Taylor feels she loves Devon and lives for the moments when he is happy and she is able to keep him happy. Taylor certainly loves Mason but has no coping skills for dealing with her own feelings of frustration and powerlessness. Moser makes it clear that to “just walk away” is often not as simple as it sounds, and often there is nowhere to walk to for those caught in abusive relationships.
The effective and simple title suggests that this is not just a story about domestic violence but is really about the friendship between Lily and Taylor. Lily has been left to deal with her mother’s childlike behaviour after a car accident left her brain damaged. With many reasons to be angry and bitter, Lily still reaches out to Taylor. In contrast to Taylor’s destructive relationships, her friendship with Lily is supportive and empowering. Taylor watches Lily diffuse rather than escalate moments of conflict and is in awe of her bravery in the face of Devon’s anger. It is this friendship with Lily that forces Taylor to stand up to Devon, not to save herself, but to save Lily.
While writing this review, I struggled to decide on an appropriate audience. The disturbing violence, sex, and profanity needs to be taken into account when choosing a reader, but Lily and Taylor poses some important questions that will intrigue many teenagers. In the end, Lily and Taylor is about survival, hope, and the importance of friendship.
Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.