"What I Carry" tells the story of Muiriel, so named for the John Muir Medical Center that nurses found her abandoned outside of as a baby. Now 17 and rapidly approaching her departure from the foster care system, Muir is getting a little panicked. For as long as she can remember, she's been preparing to strike out on her own. Every move has been carefully orchestrated to NOT rock the boat. Pack light, don't get too close to anyone, always be on time, blend in. She holds to these rules with an iron fist, unbending through more than a decade of foster homes, new schools, and temporary siblings. Except...she has one last placement before she turns 18. Muir finds herself the final foster of Francine, an older woman living on an island in the Puget Sound. And slowly, Muir's iron fist seems to be relinquishing its grip on the rules she's lived by all her life.
I was completely enveloped by this story, in no small part due to the perfect pacing. While Muir's life on the island takes shape we are also given glimpses into her past, presented in short and powerful memories of previous experiences that translate poetically to the young woman she is (still) becoming. I found her to be a very admirable character, though not without flaws. I was so invested in this character's happiness, and that feeling just brings me joy. There was also some romance (um, he's amazing), although it was not the main plot line.
This book has some great character development, lovely writing, authentic dialogue, and a fantastic setting. I've never read anything just like it, and I loved every minute of it. I would also like to say that I really appreciated the author's note. It was clear to me from the reading (and absolute crystal after reading the note) that this novel was written with careful and compassionate research.
I would recommend this to anyone, but especially if you are interested in a story about nontraditional family structures, the foster care system, characters who learn how to change, or if you like books that have a strong sense of place. The ebook is available for free on Overdrive!