Ruby talks about her mother’s experiences with work. I feel like I am beginning to understand more about this women who so callously deserted her daughter…or did she unintentionally leave? I love the idea of work being “a four letter word” like some expletive or worse, a grand villain along the lines of Voldemort. Commercial Courier sounds like a job I would love as it involves lots of driving but loathe due to the involvement with people who are peeved about their lost luggage. It scares me that so much luggage is lost that they have to hire someone to deliver it every day. What happened to good old organisation? So after hearing that Ruby’s mom hated secretarial work due to “getting up early and dealing with people” I’ve decided to like this woman so much more. Most days I am not much of a people person either and yet I am inundated with them.
So I was beginning to thaw in my arctic feelings towards the mother when we learn that she used Ruby as a navigator. Eight hours a day from five each night? What is this woman on – crack? Seriously, she obviously has no interest in providing a stable and safe environment for her child. In fact, the more I read the more I am inclined to believe that she is one of those selfish people who cuts in line at the supermarket and cuts you off while flipping you the bird in a car park.
What really cut to the quick for me was Ruby thoughts regarding opening the door and seeing something you had given up on. Is this about Ruby seeing Cora again or visa versa? Or both?
“Just three days earlier, I’d been managing as best I could at the yellow house, working for Commercial, and going to Jackson. Now, here, everything had changed again. “
My heart aches for the girl. She’s waking up in her long-lost sister’s house which would almost seem like a dream contrasting her previous life. It would be so monumental. Even worse are her musings about her mother, apparently Ruby’s mom had run off before and she assumed she would return. The constant state of worry and fear must have been fracturing her existence, making her frail and exposed and raw. Worse is that after awhile these absences had become some common place that she had numbed herself to them so it didn’t bother her anymore. Once when I was seven or eight my mom left me reading in one of the book aisles of a huge department stores. I was so engrossed in the book, she told me later, that she thought she could quickly duck up a floor and get an item she needed. I can remember looking up from my place on the floor, book in lap forgotten now that my mom was gone and quietly freaking out. There were no tears, no calls for my mom but I can remember the gut wrenching feeling in my stomach that I had been lost. Ruby had been left and I can imagine that feeling I experienced would have been compounded further. I was so confident and trustful in my mother that I knew she would return. So I marched up to a counter and asked if they could call for my mom over the intercom. Now you might think my recollection is rosy coloured but this is my mom’s recollection of the story after talking to the shop assistant. To this stranger I was this confident little girl. But all I can remember is the gut wrench. My mom came immediately back down and praised my ingenuity. (As a side note, this was South Australia in the eighties and there is no way my mother would let a child out of sight in present day.) But I keep thinking Ruby was left, not lost. Cora’s lost, not left. There’s a lot to ponder.
Warner sounds like a catch. He also comes with some stunning items like a pipe and an alcohol problem. What a keeper.
“He’d never done anything I could point to specifically, but I believed this was due not to innocence but to lack of opportunity. I did not intend to provide him with one.”
These two lines made my skin crawl. The fact that Ruby’s mother brought this man in their lives and their home angers me further. If he looks like a bum and sounds like a bum (and probably smells like one too) then he’s definitely a bum. A scary bum who should not be anywhere near a teenage girl. The one thing that stood out to me the most was Ruby decision not to allow him an opportunity, that she was taking control as much as she could in that situation. Defiance. And yet we know that things happen whether or not we make a stand. Thank goodness Warner has appeared to run away with her mother, I don’t want to think about what may have happened if he hadn’t. If anything, it’s a shout out to our instincts, listen to them.
And we are back to present day. Ruby wearing old jeans and a too small jumper to her first day at Perkins Day. She notes that Cora was always sick, “the canary in the coal mine”, the first one to be hit with a malady. Now knowing what her mother was like, I am beginning to wonder if stress presents itself in health related ways in Cora. Perhaps the stress, and I am brainstorming here, of looking after her mother and little sister just wore Cora down to the nub so she was sick all the time? This kind of explains the thermometer in her mouth the morning of Ruby’s return.
Having heard the list of goodies laid out by Jamie for breakfast, I have decided I want a Jamie of my own. Sure he’s talking on the phone but he’s also offering her coffee. Jamie definitely seems to have some technical know how and I like him even more, do you think he’d be available to de-bug my laptop? Even better is his response to Ruby’s declaration of not liking breakfast – “that’s crazy talk”. I personally could have breakfast for every meal of the day if it were more socially acceptable. And it is getting there, we’ve all been to a ‘breakfast served all day’ place I am sure. World domination is only one pancake away.
I love that he ignores the incessant pinging of his computer to put her at ease about her first day at a new school. He obviously cares. He empathises. I think it was deliberate on Dessen’s part to make Jamie a more present character at this point of the book, it provides more questions about Cora and why she’s not trying. What is Cora’s deal? Why isn’t she trying harder? In fact why isn’t she trying at all? Jamie’s dog Roscoe is introduced again and he sounds delightful and maybe a little demented.
At this stage Cora is re-introduced, a little belatedly, as Jamie hit her snooze button so she could rest more. He really is perfection, sigh. There is definite love there. I wonder how weird it would be for Ruby to be around that having not experienced any affection from her mother, as far as I am aware. Another interesting item of note is that Cora’s second, indirect interaction with Ruby is to try and get her to leave again (if only to school). Is Cora uncomfortable with Ruby being there? Is Ruby there because Jamie wants her to be, not Cora? Or is Cora trying to save herself from hurt? And yet she offers Ruby something to wear, realising that at a private school, first impressions mean everything.
Ruby asks “Why am I here?”
To which Cora responds “Because you are a minor…and your mother abandoned you.”
Okay two things – 1) Cora, really? You couldn’t summon up some comforting words about Ruby being your sister? 2) ‘Your mother’ um Cora she’s your mother too. This really demonstrates the distance Cora has established not only between her old life and the present but the incision she’s made between herself and her mother/sister. This woman is in pain. So much so she’s become an impenetrable fortress. I feel for Ruby but I feel more for Cora in this moment.
I do like that someone is taking charge. Ruby needs to be a kid, let someone else make the decisions and provide some structure. Yeah it will be hard after living solo and unhindered for the last few years but it is obviously something she needs. Less decisions, less worry, less stress.
A new school. Thankfully with a new wardrobe Ruby is dropped off by Jamie to the horrible sensation of a foreign, looming building destined to make your existence hellish. We learn that Jamie is the benefactor of the new school soccer complex, which would have smoothed over Ruby’s enrolment in the school. Not only that, Jamie wants his philanthropy kept quiet – darn you Cora! And then I am hit with the knowledge that UMe.com (sort of like Facebook or myspace I imagine) is owned by Jamie and I cringe in embarrassment for Ruby’s previous question regarding him having a page. This is clearly a humble guy.
Cora works for the public defenders office as a lawyer. I am beginning to suspect that I have been too hard on Cora. I think she’s had it just as tough as Ruby and is trying to fight the wrongs now. She could happily be sitting back drinking a cosmo and getting a tan but she’s working for the state. I am impressed … and a little in awe. I also think the graduation envelope may come back into play at some point.
Ruby connects ‘Angel from Montgomery’ by Bonnie Raitt with her mother. That the voice of such a flawed woman could permeate her dreams shows how you can love someone who is bad for you. My mother is an interesting one, I can remember her singing songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was little. She had a nice voice, not spectacular, but definitely soothing just as Ruby’s mom’s voice is to her. Yet Ruby talks about the singing being a warning of her mother’s moods. It is interesting that she has chosen that memory as a soothing one in Cora’s home.
Her mother’s existence was obviously one full of regrets. Not marrying the fullback, sleeping with the engineer, having a baby before graduation. A lot of people can turn things around, make lemonade out of lemons but this lady seems intent on being a ‘victim of fate’ rather than demonstrating any evidence of action on her part. Her husband left and she continued to find other losers to fill her life, still ruing the day her fairytale existence with the footballer came to a close.
“Cora became my one constant.”
Can you imagine the pressure on this child? Her father’s left, her mother’s sunk into some sort of depression and she has a little sister to take care of and protect. The adult, the parent overcome by anger swiping at her own child, the image in my head has me both sad and angry simultaneously. Where has the father gone, he should be there picking up the slack. My empathy and sympathy for Cora is growing by the moment. The fact that the sound of Cora’s breathing was so reassuring shows how influential Cora was to a young Ruby. What happened? How could a child who sacrificed so much for her sister just walk away?
Cora leaves for college. But this wasn’t her deserting them. She was making a better life for herself despite her fears for Ruby’s wellbeing. She would call, always talking to Ruby no matter what was happening in her college periphery. This is not someone who could cut off her sister for ten years. Then the calls stop and I am actually worried for Cora more than Ruby, what happened? But her mother’s words make my skin crawl
“She’s got her own life now, she doesn’t need us anymore…It’s just you and me now, baby. Just you and me.”
I think her mother did something to drive Cora away. But what? She’s already been neglectful and physically abusive, what more could she do? And then it occurred to me, the best way to punish Cora for making a life of her own was to rob her of her sister. I find it curious that my deductions from Ruby’s memories are so different from Ruby’s own. That she deduced that Cora moved on, no longer cared when so much of Cora’s prior actions indicate that this girl wasn’t capable of that.
It’s at this point when I realise, Sarah Dessen has hooked me line and sinker.