In You Are My Only by Beth Kephart, Emmy Rane is a young mother whose child is stolen from her backyard one sunny afternoon. Poor, confused and devastated by the loss of “Baby”, Emmy is ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath; angry husband, suspicious police and an unforgiving mental institution. Meanwhile, Sophie Marks has always led a sheltered life. Homeschooled by her mother, they move from place to place, on the run , keeping one step ahead of the “No Good”. When Sophie sees Joey, playing in the yard with his dog, she risks her mother’s anger (and another possible move) and dares to get to know Joey and his two aunts. Through their friendship and support, Sophie gains the courage to look into the secrets of her mother’s past and to reach for a kind of freedom she has never known.
Beth Kephart’s poignant novel of two young women navigating lives of severely limited freedom, starts off slowly. The nature of Emmy and Sophie’s confinements are carefully relayed over several short alternating chapters. Emmy’s emotional turmoil and confusion is palpable as she reacts to the loss of her child, but how much of her emotional state is driven by that loss and how much may stem from other issues is not apparent right away, but revealed throughout the novel as we learn her story. It’s no big mystery that the stories of the young women are connected, although readers may not know at first just how much time and distance separate the two. Kephart excels in the small moments, and I was mesmerized by how the little things in Sophie’s existence translated into a small world, a troubled mother, an obsession with the blue of a sky that is rarely seen.
You Are My Only is a tiny book. The page count is not high, and the volume is slim. But, it never reads that way, and I think it’s because the reader is so fully present in all the character’s lives, and they are all strong and lovable. Motherhood and nurturing are strong themes throughout. Joey’s aunts parent him after a terrible tragedy and they bring Sophie into the fold, Emmy mothers a dear friend, when they both have no one else, and she especially does not have “Baby”, and Sophie mothers her own mother seemingly on the verge of a breakdown a long time coming. I felt deeply for these characters who were intent on forging pathways to love through the obstacles life paced in their way. While I did say that there wasn’t mystery in how the stories connected, I was on the edge of my seat trying to see how it would play out.
A thoughtfully rendered young adult novel, Kephart’s You Are My Only will also appeal to adult fans of complex situations and literary fiction. Recommended.