4 out of 4 stars
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“If it weren’t for me, my mom wouldn’t have to do the things she does. She’d probably have a pretty good life if I wasn’t around.”
For as long as he can remember, teenaged Charles has been making excuses for his abusive mother. She drinks in excess and beats him. She is always sorry, but never sorry enough to seek help for her destructive behavior. Whenever his mom has had enough of him, he is sent away to stay with his grandparents or to Hawthorne, which is a group home. After a particularly rough home visit, his mother drops him off at Hawthorne and disappears for months. Charles remains hopeful that one day he will be worthy of his mother’s love.
Throughout his stay at Hawthorne, Charles falls into a routine and begins to feel a sense of belonging. The home is full of colorful characters that have also come from soiled home lives. He fills his days with reading about Darwin’s theories and sneaking off with love interest, Margo. As things are just beginning to fall into place, they quickly fall apart. He and Margo hit a rough patch, and another birthday comes and goes without hearing anything from his mother. Heartbroken and angry, his instinct is to run—far away, but where will he go?
Dyed Souls by Gary Santorella is a coming-of-age novel that left an everlasting imprint on my heart. This masterpiece is comprised of approximately three hundred pages, and the story is written in the first-person perspective. The reader follows Charles as he tries to make sense of the dark world that he is immersed in by using his reflective thoughts. This heart-wrenching book was an emotional rollercoaster. Its terrifying twists and turns left me questioning why I even got on in the first place, but when it was over, I wanted to ride it again!
Charles had a strong inner voice that translated well onto paper and into my heart. It was so painstakingly obvious that he wanted to feel worthy of love. The absence of his mother’s love drove him to seek it from another—Margo. His dysfunctional relationship with his mother translated into a skewed sense of normalcy. This caused him to seek affection from someone who was just as damaged as her.
With such a strong protagonist, it made sense that Dyed Souls would have a memorable cast of supporting characters. While her role was relatively small, Charles’s mother had a larger-than-life personality. Every time she appeared in his life, she rolled in like a tornado causing a path of destruction. It was painful to watch someone so vehemently against getting the help that they needed. Her addictions and promiscuity were a direct result of unresolved trauma. Margo was another character that played a significant role in Charles’s life. She was quite unpredictable with her feelings towards him. She would often get close to him but then change her tune completely, which was the cause of much confusion for Charles. Finally, his grandfather, while absent for most of the story, had a significant influence on Charles’s thoughts and opinions.
The book was professionally edited, and I only found two minor errors that didn’t alter my reading experience. The author had a way of capturing my attention, holding it throughout the story, and long after it had ended. Days after I had finished the book, I found myself thinking about Charles and how his character left a profound impact on me. For the above reasons, I chose to give the book a rating of four out of four stars.
I would dissuade young readers from picking up this book due to the language and weighty topics. The author tackles all facets of abuse, and this may be a trigger for sensitive readers. On the other hand, I would recommend Dyed Souls to readers who appreciate books that are character-driven and strongly focused on relationships. Also, if you are interested in Darwinism, this book is for you!
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