True Places by Sonja Yoerg
Her thoughts turned to Iris, alone in the forest for so long, neither wandering nor lost. Such freedom was foreign to Suzanne, and she wondered if her attachment to the girl was born of fascination with Iris’s independence. Growing up, Suzanne had been at the mercy of the tangled misery of her parents’ marriage; she’d had no agency and little love or attention as compensation. College was an escape route, and like a perennially captive animal, Suzanne had needed those years to begin to understand the mechanics of psychological freedom. Finally, believing in love at last, she’d allowed her heart to wander, and it was then that Suzanne had become truly lost.
–True Places by Sonja Yoerg
True Places is a drama novel about Iris, a young teen who has lived in the Appalachians since her mother died, and Suzanne, the wealthy wife and mother who finds Iris and takes her in. True Places examines the bonds between family members, especially as children age and develop their own independence, and how we as individuals fit within the greater world around us.
I wasn’t certain that I would like the characters when I first started reading True Places, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end. Suzanne’s daughter, Brynn, by far seemed the most shallow and two-dimensional, and even the supposedly enlightened son Reid seemed very simplistic, but throughout the novel, they were both given a lot of depth. Suzanne and Iris were of course complex and interesting (and they should be, as the main characters), but even the secondary characters were fleshed out well and interacted in unexpected and interesting ways.
I definitely struggled with the pacing on this one. The interesting characters kept me invested in the plot, but for the first two-thirds of the book, and there were definitely well-established problems for the characters (Iris’s discomfort with city life and Suzanne’s horror at her family’s materialism), but it wasn’t clear that anyone was actually acting to solve those problems. As much as I enjoyed True Places, I think I would have enjoyed it more if the characters had a little more agency early on. Even the selfish antics of Suzanne’s spoiled daughter Brynn were refreshing after so much time with so little decided action. That being said, this definitely was fixed at about two-thirds of the way through, and after that point, I was much happier with the pacing.
The setting was by far my favorite part of this book. Living in Kansas, I know very little about Appalachia, but the details given to all of the settings, including Suzanne’s house, the nearby woods, the woods where Iris lives, and even the nearby town, was detailed, and I felt entirely immersed in their world. Just as the characters developed throughout the book, the setting did too – there were a few locations that were revisited and described in more detail as the characters themselves grew, I loved this dynamic between the setting and the characters themselves.
In all, I will give True Places a 7 out of 10. Despite the slowness of the plot, Sonja Yoerg has created such a rich, beautiful world, even despite the socioeconomic problems, that I couldn’t help but be immersed. This book is ideal for readers of family dramas, and any reader that loves good character development, but readers that want a swiftly moving plot will probably get stuck.