Ellen Wittlinger’s newest novel “Local Girl Swept Away” is one of those books that I had to put down for a couple of minutes, digest what was happening, and then return to it hoping that the ending would be just as good as the build-up.
Jackie Silva and her two best friends, Lucas and Finn, have followed Lorna’s lead since they were in the fourth grade. They’ve looked up to Lorna with the kind of adoration that young girls have for their favorite boy band, and Lorna basked in it. Coming from a dysfunctional household, Lorna craves attention and the trio willingly give it to her. For years, they enjoyed following Lorna around and happily did whatever she wanted. Then, one day, Lorna is taken away from them when she runs recklessly along the breakwater during a storm and is carted off by the sea, where she supposedly falls in. The tragedy strikes the trio full force and they all grieve Lorna’s unfortunate death in their own way. However, for Jackie, Lorna’s disappearance allows her the space she needs to be her own person, be confident enough to pursue her unrequited love and to focus on her dreams of becoming an artist. By the end of the novel, Jackie’s character has matured so much that she’s able to handle the truths that unravel in ways that the person she was before could never have.
I had a hunch that things would turn out the way they did in the end but I didn’t think it would’ve been as sad as it was. I loved Jackie’s character. I rooted for Jackie all the way but Jackie and her friends’ “Lorna-can-do-no-wrong” mantra was sometimes unbearable to read. She’s so fixated on Lorna that I was almost certain that she and Finn were going to battle over who should date her. Instead of going down that road, the author focuses on developing Jackie’s character. Readers get the opportunity to learn more about Jackie’s likes, interests and unique personality. While Jackie is grieving over the loss of her best friend, she doesn’t miss the opportunity to go after Finn, Lorna’s boyfriend and her long-term love interest. She’s an artist by nature and, even though she’s super self-conscious, she leaps at the chance to further her career. She’s one of the most real characters in the novel and it was more than easy to empathize with her and understand the decisions she made.
Regardless of Lorna’s self-absorbed behaviour, I actually liked her character too. The author made sure that none of the characters in the book were seen as one-dimensional. I understood the reasons behind some of Lorna’s actions and, while I don’t agree with what she did to everyone, I tried to sympathize with her.
The way Ellen Wittlinger weaved this story together makes this novel worthy enough of being placed on my “Must-Read Again” shelf. The ending, while heart-wrenching to read, was satisfying. Also, I was glad that Jackie dropped her sheep mentality for Lorna and looked toward her very bright future. In the few months that she had before her senior year in high school, Jackie went through loss, heartbreak and personal development. And I was still reeling over all the events that happened in the novel long after I finished reading it.