I finished The Unraveling of Mercy Louis the same way I read it from the beginning. I kept the book in my handbag – next to my wallet, phone, lip gloss, keys, and my old paper pocket calendar. I took it everywhere with me for three weeks. Not having the luxury to binge read – because moving, life, kids – I could only read in small, rushed and hungry snippets of time. I got to know Mercy instead in the carpool lane, while stirring dinner, while folding laundry, but mostly when I was sitting on a dusty floor outside of the gym in the high school basement as I waited for my daughter for an hour and a half each Wednesday evening.
Little did I know the irony of reading in this place and this time when I opened this book and first met Mercy Louis on the last day of her junior year of high school. “Girls will cry. It’s the last day of school, and endings are always extreme. Like the Great Tribulation before the Rapture……Maybe if I stay right here in my room in the stilt house, the final school bell won’t ring, dismissing us into the anarchy of summer.”
I watched the high school students pass by each evening as I sat on the dirty, after school gym floor and got to know Mercy. The band kids walking by to play at the JV basketball game, the cheerleaders practicing in the hallway outside of the bathroom, the kids waiting for their parents – screwing around, flirting, showing off, doing homework, laughing, quiet, in a group, alone.
And while I am not completely enamored with aging, Lord save me from ever having to be a teenager again.
I was a horrible teenager. I still have anxiety thinking about it. Wanting to be someone, wanting to be loved right, wanting to be good at something, wanting to stand out. Looking back I know now that if I would’ve spent more time loving others and lifting up others than I did with my own insecurities – well high school probably wouldn’t have sucked so bad.
Well Mercy and her “friends” brought this back full circle for me as this book explores the brutality and anxieties of girlhood in America. From starting out with a horrifying discovery of a dead baby, to placing blame on every high school girl in town, to judging and condemning, comparing and modeling, and never measuring up. From parents, to ministers, police, teachers, and friends – is anyone really worthy or better than? The Unraveling of Mercy Louis hits hard and close to home and makes me angry as a parent, as a girl, as a human. It unravels and uncovers the truth of behaviors that we all need to check at the door each morning.
This book kept me riveted as I wanted to just take each girl in my arms and whisper that they are good, good enough, and amazing. And I wanted to shake those who feel they have the right to ever judge.
The wallflower of the book, if you will and you let me go all Breakfast Club on you, had one of my favorite lines told about her towards the end of the book(without giving away the end). “…she arrived at the realization that not much separates her from someone as exceptional as Mercy, and what distinguishes them from each other isn’t beauty or talent or control…”
You’ll have the read the book to find out what she discovers as what best distinguishes us. And it will leave you in a puddle.
I hope by reading The Unraveling of Mercy Louis – that all of us can take a lesson in being gentle with each other. We spend so much time in loving care of our babies – but maybe it’s time we give our friends, neighbors, strangers, cool girls and wallflowers a lot more grace.
The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is Keija Parssinen’s latest novel. Keija directs the Quarry Heights Writers’ Workshop and works with students in Cedar Crest College’s low-residency Pan-European MFA program. She lives in Columbia, Missouri with her husband and son. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote fellow. Find out more about Keija here.
This incredible book releases tomorrow, March 10th – and you can preorder here.