Mary DeMuth File:
Reviewed by Carol Kurtz
Wishing on Dandelions by Mary DeMuth
"A touching coming of age story."
It’s a tumultuous senior year for Maranatha, her ‘mater year as they say in the slow paced East Texas town of Burl. She’s been living with her Uncle Zane since her mother died years back. She is filled with guilt, partly because of sexual abuse in her past and because she blames herself for Uncle Zane’s debilitating stroke. He is now unable to express affection or any other type of fatherly care towards her. Zady, their long time housekeeper who is practically a member of the family, gives Natha the motherly affection she craves and also brings her the love of God. But now with Uncle Zane’s stroke, he needs the help of a nurse, and Georgeanne blows into Natha’s life. It doesn’t take her long to talk Uncle Zane into marriage, changing Natha’s life forever.
Georgeanne ends the rivalry between herself and Zady by firing her. They don’t need any “colored people” working for them anymore. Maranatha feels God has completely abandoned her with the wedding approaching and losing Zady, her mama figure. She can’t allow herself to trust anyone else for fear they might learn of her secret past, as if the repeated abuse was her fault and she’s forever soiled somehow. She’s even more confused by her growing feelings for her black friend, Charlie, but she cannot let her feelings take their normal course. Surely Charlie must be like all other men, only out for one thing.
As if things couldn’t get worse, in a lapse of good judgment, Natha takes a ride from a stranger and barely escapes his attempt to abduct her. She is now convinced that she must bear some kind of “mark” she acquired from her past abuser. Something that advertises that she is weak and fair game for abuse. When this criminal is later arrested for raping and beating a woman, Natha is called to testify. The victim is in the hospital, unable to talk, and this man will go free is she does not speak up about what he tried to do to her. If she does, the whole town would learn of her past and her imagined guilt. Her life would be over. It’s asking too much, and she refuses.
Although the story takes place in the 80's, which explains all the 80's pop culture references, both the backwards town of Burl and Maranatha’s turmoil are timeless. DeMuth explains, “Like Maranatha, I endured sexual abuse, but I was much younger when it happened. I wrestled through relationships in my teens with Maranatha’s twin feelings of revulsion and attraction.”
Georgeanne is prejudiced, as are many of the white Christians on the “good” side of town. She snoops and even takes things from Maranatha’s room, an unforgivable transgression. But she also takes great interest and delight in making Maranatha her idea of pretty. Maranatha is learning that people who hurt others are often hurt themselves.
What will happen if Maranatha testifies and puts this predator away where he cannot hurt anyone else? Will the town see her “mark” and turn it’s back on her forever? Will Charlie be unable to ever look at her again? Or can she avoid this exposure and just refuse to help? This would keep her secret buried in her soul, where it has festered all these years. Or does everyone already know her secret anyway?
DeMuth deals with the subject of sexual abuse in a tactful but not too sheltered way. She deftly intertwines this taboo with the church and the love of God in a much needed way. She exposes judgmental and ignorant attitudes among some Christian circles, but even in the prejudiced and hypocritical characters there are sympathetic traits. We can understand why they are what they are without excusing it. Without being a scathing criticism of all the church’s flaws, she shows the underbelly of Christianity, as well as how a church can be a family for the family-less. And it takes courage to embrace the idea of interracial dating among godly teens.
Readers will find themselves rooting for Uncle Zane and Georgeanne as well as for Maranatha. They’ll get the message DeMuth is sending while enjoying a touching coming of age story. I intended to read it over the span of a week, but I found myself finishing it in one night.
Carol Kurtz Darlington is a certified personal trainer and a certified group fitness instructor who works with people who want to lose weight as well as those who just want to enjoy better health. She enjoys empowering and encouraging others to reach their health and fitness goals, feel better about themselves in the process, and enjoy more energy to stay active in all areas of their lives. She is the founder of Totally Fit With Carol, a Christian weight loss website featuring workout videos, health tips, exercise advice, and more. She loves her morning cappuccino and her beloved grand-dog. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and haunting Starbucks.