Where You Left Us
Calla Devlin’s sophomore novel offers a look into what happens to those left behind after disaster.
The story begins with the poignant line, “My father specializes in devastation,” and from that point onward, readers are swept into Charlotte’s devastation. After her father leaves for the Ukraine following a deadly earthquake, Charlotte is forced to face her biggest fear: what if her father doesn’t come back home?
Throughout this story, Devlin expertly crafts a story filled with heartbreak, grief, friendship, first love, and what’s more: the redemptive power of love amidst loss. It becomes clear early on that Charlotte’s father has always been the anchor holding her and her mother together. After all, Charlotte wants to be a photo journalist just like her father, and holds a place on the school newspaper with the hopes of following in her father’s footsteps.
Without her father, Charlotte discovers her own creativity, and a pull toward a different kind of photography. Devlin uses this hobby to ground the reader in Charlotte’s every day life, while also characterizing her and her relationship with her father. Photography shapes the way Charlotte looks at the world, as well as the way she tells readers her story. But what proves most astounding, is just when the space between Charlotte and her father grows too wide, it acts as a force to rebuild a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship.
Too often in YA, parents are nonentities or antagonistic forces, but Charlotte’s parents are loving, fractured, somewhat dysfunctional, and absolutely authentic. And through the lens of Charlotte and her mother processing the possible disappearance of her father, more rich history finds its way to the page, including the reveal that Charlotte once had a sister who died and whose presence still haunts the vey people they’ve become since. There seems to be a conscious echo between the way Charlotte believes her mother must view her, and perhaps the way Charlotte might view her mother if her father doesn’t return home.
But instead of resentment and pain, there is a tenderness and all-consuming love that is exchanged between Charlotte and her mother.
In much the same way that photography shapes the world of this story, so too does baking and Russian folklore. Some of the most intricate and rich details of this world come from the items Charlotte’s mother creates in the downstairs bakery with Tatya Nadine, who also helps shape this fictional world into one, which feels authentic. Charlotte’s mother’s Russian heritage lends a lyricism and deeper mythos to this story, which only works to add other characters to this world, that though inhuman, feel just as real as any person.
While the bonds of family are tested within this novel, it becomes clear that they are not easily broken. The writing is beautiful, story all encompassing, and the fate of the characters is fulfilled. My only wish after spending so much time with Charlotte is for one more chapter. There are places I wanted to see, and adventures I wanted to live before leaving Charlotte behind.