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At eighteen Christopher is restless and longs for something he cannot name. His mother vanished when he was very small and after spending more than ten years travelling on the rivers and canals, drifting between towns and schools, with mostly only his dad and brother, Jay, for company, he is desperate to escape that claustrophobic existence.
When they return to settle in Arlow, a town they haven’t been back to in over a decade, everything changes.
Malachi has given up on love. He lost his heart when he lost his innocence. Now at twenty nine he just exists–getting drunk, fixing cars and playing the music he loves.
When their paths cross one night at a gypsy camp, Christopher thinks he’s found what he’s been looking for, but Malachi is afraid. He is afraid their love will destroy everything Christopher has ever known. They are both ghosts from one another’s past, and if Malachi’s secrets are revealed more than just innocence will be lost in their wake.
In the best possible way, Suki Fleet has a vise-like grip on my heart. I’ll talk more about that on Friday, but it must be said before I get started with this review: Fleet’s an incredibly talented writer, and I’m still pinching myself I’ve discovered her. (Shout out to that special someone who unwittingly introduced me to this author!)
Innocence is the haunting story of Christopher, a man-boy struggling to find his place among a world of drifters (gypsies), subsisting simply and following the flow of work.
Living the way he does has a magical appeal in my mind, but make no mistake: Christopher doesn’t enjoy an easy life. His mother disappeared without a trace when he was small, leaving an indelible scar on Christopher, his father and his younger brother. He tries so hard to make things manageable for his younger brother, that he compromises his own peace in the process. I nearly choked on his devotion to his brother, on Christopher’s desperate struggle to make his brother’s life happier. His relationship with everyone, from his father to the other drifters, to the townsfolk…it’s nuanced and purposeful and powerful.
Malachi, another drifter, is older, wiser and more jaded. It’s immediately obvious Malachi is carrying serious baggage. He travels with a band of land-based gypsies (Christopher and his family live on a boat), and when Christopher and Malachi’s paths cross, sparks fly and lives turn on their axis.
On their own Christopher and Malachi are complex. Together, they’re knotty and frustrating and, wow…magical. They’re drawn to each other for reasons Christopher doesn’t fully realize, and for reasons Malachi won’t let himself accept.
So much of Innocence deals with guilt and the choices we make in life that have a profound effect on so many others. It is thunderous and slow-moving all at once. Reading it will leave you feeling gritty and raw. I had a sensation of hovering above the story; Fleet has a way of putting the reader there, absorbing the angst and desperation of each character, tenfold. You’ll suffer the weight of Malachi’s secrets and Christopher’s misunderstandings. There were so many times I felt awkward and the story was hard to read; I was so drawn into what was happening to these guys.
One of the things I love most about this writer is that even though she breaks my heart (um, three separate books now, sheesh), she manages to show me something brutal and beautiful about humanity. She crushes my heart(!) but she heals me with her words, bless.
You should read Innocence because the story is rich and powerful and ultimately hopeful. Christopher and Malachi and their world are something you need to learn about, as quick as you can (hint: buy links below).