Larkin James suffers an unspeakably horrible childhood, with an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who blames her for his death. At eighteen, Larkin flees Georgia, intending never to return. But when news of her mother’s cancer reaches her, she knows she must do the right thing.

Jeremy Henderson, who worked with Larkin at the horse farm when they were teens, has had his life implode around him. His mentally unstable wife tried to kill herself and their daughter, Amanda. His daughter survived but has not spoken a word since. When Jeremy discovers Larkin is back in town, and catches her in an interaction with his daughter—a positive one—his interest in his teenage coworker is piqued.

This emotionally intense story addresses some rough topics, focusing on how child abuse—both physical and verbal—can damage the psyche. The torment Larkin experienced, though, is exaggerated beyond the point of credibility. Aside from her awful home life, Larkin suffers bullying at school to an unimaginable degree. When she approaches her teachers—not just one, but several—they all blame her for the problems, no questions asked. Was there no one in that town who could see what was happening to this child?

Although Larkin’s character is sympathetic and generous, Jeremy comes across as selfish and insensitive. He doesn’t change much from beginning to end and does little to justify improving Larkin’s—or the reader’s—opinion of him. The interactions between Larkin and Amanda, however, are heartwarming, and the descriptions of their healing through horses are fresh and endearing.

FS Brown