Nina LaCour’s Watch Over Me is bursting with melancholy and hope. Full of ghosts, found families and second chances, this book was a quick punch to the gut. Even after I finished, I felt the expectant foreboding, knowing that this story would stick with me for a long time.
Set on a coastal farm in California, Mila is accepted as a teacher and with it, given a place to live in a cabin of her own. The farm is run by Terry and Julia, who make a home for foster children of all ages. Mila feels that she’s finally earned everything she has fought for—a place to land, live, be herself, and grow. But the farm is haunted. And the ghosts unnerve her.
As she forms a bond with her one student—a quiet boy named Lee with his own ghosts—she begins to confront her past that has led her here. The story is not easy. There is heartache and trauma but its confronted with kindness and love. Mila’s journey is unsettling, for her and the reader, as she relives some of her worst memories, and the ghosts that prowl the land keep getting closer and closer.
Nina LaCour is a master of making us care so much in such little time. The book is less than 300 pages and in the first chapter alone, when Mila finds the foster mother she’s been living with bring in baby clothes and realizes that her time there is over. You can feel Mila’s loneliness, her desperation to find somewhere to fit in, and even though her memories and the reasons she’s in foster care in the first place unfold later on, you realize that you need for her to be okay. You want her to be safe and whole. This is, of course, all testament to the beautiful way that Nina tells the story. Even though I’ve never been to this farm, the feel of it—Julia’s flowers, the bare but cozy cabins where the teachers live, the big barn where the students learn—is so present and real.
Every character, Lee, Billy and Liz among the others at the farm, was as alive as Mika, their secrets, stories, ghosts all added to the melancholy and fullness of the story. So that even though it was short, I felt like I was able to know everyone at the farm and feel as Mila did, as if she had finally found a good place to land.
Without spoiling much, I want to say that I appreciated Mila’s story and her realizations at the end. Even though she had been welcomed into this place, it was her decision, her choice to be apart of it after everything she had learned and gone through. I loved the hope that came with her self-discovery and found it very true and important to the character and to anyone dealing with trauma. I hope this book helps in some small way. It definitely felt like it could.
Though it wasn’t an easy read, Watch Over Me lingered with me after I finished. I felt as if I were among the fog and waves of the coast or among the kids on the farm. I wanted to see more of Mila settled with her new family, with Lee and the twins that were her students. But I’m happy at what we got, grateful for the way Mila’s story seemed to continue even after the last page.
Reading about loneliness is probably a demanding task at the best of times but even more so during a pandemic. That said, I can’t recommend the book enough. It really is a lovely read, worthy of your immediate TBR and Must Read lists for the year.