Published by Dial Press on February 27th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Set in the 1980s, Heather Lloyd’s moving debut My Name is Venus Black follows the story of Venus Black, a thirteen year-old straight A student who dreams of becoming the first female astronaut in space. When the story opens, Venus is being placed into the backseat of a police car and taken away from her home and subsequently charged with a horrific crime. Venus refuses to talk to anyone about what happened or why it happened, but she is adamant that her mother is to blame and refuses to speak to her as well. Ultimately Venus is convicted and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for more than five years. As if Venus’s crime and imprisonment wasn’t enough to tear apart the Black family, Venus’ seven year old brother Leo, who is developmentally disabled, also goes missing. One minute he’s playing in the neighbor’s sandbox, the next he vanishes without a trace. During one of their infrequent meetings, Venus’ mother Inez blurts out that she holds Venus responsible for the fact that Leo has gone missing. Thus an already strained relationship becomes even more strained.
When Venus is finally released, she chooses not to go back home. Instead, she decides she needs to make a fresh start so she obtains a fake id and thus tries to escape from her past and start over. At first Venus is completely alone and refuses to trust anyone around her, but as she finally starts to meet new people, she finds herself opening up and letting more people in. She makes a friend at the local coffee shop where she lands her first job, becomes like a big sister to the young daughter of a man she rents a room from, and even begins a bit of a flirtation with one of the regular customers at the coffee shop. What Venus eventually realizes, however, is that she can’t have these new relationships while living a lie and constantly looking over her shoulder wondering if someone has figured out who she really is. This realization causes old wounds to reopen and Venus realizes that she has to face her past head on, including her estranged relationship with her mother as well as the disappearance of her brother (who is still missing), if she ever hopes to move past it.
Can Venus come to terms with the actions from her past and go after the second chance she deserves? Can she forgive her mother for looking the other way when Venus needed her the most? And most importantly, can Venus learn to forgive herself?
My Name is Venus Black is a moving coming of age story about second chances, forgiveness, facing up to one’s past, and most importantly, about family.
The focus on family was one of the themes that really resonated with me. Whether it’s the family you’re born with or a family that you’ve made because you all happen to be living under one roof, this book is all about the connections we make with those around us. Even though she is alone and has every intention of remaining so when she is first released, Venus slowly but surely finds herself forming an almost sisterly bond with a young girl named Piper that she lives with for a while. Venus is also constantly reminded of the family she has lost and left behind. She misses Leo and is always thinking about him and wondering if he is okay. This story also strongly focuses on the idea that no matter how badly you think you’ve messed up, your family is always there for you and it’s never too late to start over if you’re willing to try.
What really got to me about My Name is Venus Black is that it was told mostly from the perspective of the two children, Venus and Leo. Because some of the events of the story are so dark, it’s just all the more poignant to see them unfold through the eyes of a child. All of the emotions, the fears and the uncertainty just got to me even more than they probably would have if the story had been presented to me differently.
I also loved both Venus and Leo. Venus is such a strong voice in this story and her character development is incredible. I felt bad for her in the beginning because she just wouldn’t talk about what happened and in some ways probably made things harder for herself by refusing to tell her story. Venus’ story is all about growth though and what she goes through in this story takes her from being basically a terrified little girl in the beginning to a fierce young woman ready to take on the world by the end.
And even though this is mainly Venus’ story, Leo also plays a huge role. He isn’t given a diagnosis in this book but based on the way he needs structure and the way he panics when his routine is disrupted, I think he is quite possibly autistic. Leo is such a vulnerable character that I immediately felt protective of him because he’s caught up in the middle of something he can’t even begin to comprehend. Leo is important to the story primarily because of how his disappearance impacts Venus and Inez. No matter how many years have passed, neither of them give up on the idea that he is still out there so he remains a connection between them no matter how estranged they are from one another.
I only had one real issue with My Name is Venus Black and that had to do with the way it would sometimes switch from one character’s perspective to another without warning right in the middle of a chapter. Hopefully this is just an ARC formatting issue that will not be in the finished copy, but in the review copy I read, occasionally it would just randomly switch from Venus’ perspective to Leo’s from one paragraph to the next. I found that a little odd, especially since the chapters themselves were told from different perspectives. Why add further switches within the chapters instead of just making more chapters? Anyway, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the book but it did slow me down a few times while reading since it was a little jarring each time it happened.
My Name is Venus Black is an incredibly moving story about family and forgiveness. It’s about learning that your actions have consequences and that you have to accept responsibility for them, but it’s also about second chances and how we’re all entitled to them. If you’re looking for a poignant story filled with memorable characters, I’d highly recommend My Name is Venus Black.
Venus Black is a straitlaced A student fascinated by the study of astronomy—until the night she commits a shocking crime that tears her family apart and ignites a media firestorm. Venus refuses to talk about what happened or why, except to blame her mother. Adding to the mystery, Venus’s developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo, goes missing.
More than five years later, Venus is released from prison with a suitcase of used clothes, a fake identity, and a determination to escape her painful past. Estranged from her mother, and with her beloved brother still missing, she sets out to make a fresh start in Seattle, skittish and alone. But as new people enter her orbit—including a romantic interest and a young girl who seems like a mirror image of her former lost self—old wounds resurface, and Venus realizes that she can’t find a future while she’s running from her past.