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Seneca King has a past and a limp. That’s our introduction to her as she enters Sophia College, an all-women’s school located in New England. When asked by her new dorm roommate about her leg, Seneca tells her simply she “was shot.” That seems to shut the roommate up and we don’t hear from the roomy again until we learn that she’s pleaded with the powers-that-be at the college to reassign her to another room—not because she can’t put up with the aloof, reclusive Seneca, not because she’s afraid of her mysterious past, but because she can’t stand the nightmares—and, especially, the screams that accompany them. It proves to be problem, for no one wants to get close to Seneca, and all she can hope for is to be relegated to a single dorm room, even though those are reserved for upper class women. Seneca finally gets a new roommate in Britt, whom she met her first day on campus. Britt has a calming influence on Seneca as well as a supportive demeanor that she manages to project without getting too close. Her presence even tempers Seneca’s night terrors. However, it is senior, Dylan Walker, that turns Seneca’s very controlled, protected world up-side-down.
On the prowl for a one-night stand, Seneca meets Dylan at a women’s bar, but Dylan has been dragged there by friends who think she needs to get out more and Dylan is having none of it. When Seneca asks Dylan to dance, Dylan promptly lays the ground rules—she’s not looking for sex. Any further discussion, though, is thwarted when Seneca is jostled on the dance floor and she has a reaction that seems both dramatic and traumatic—and she’s gone—leaving Dylan wondering what happened. It’s not until some time has passed that Dylan and Seneca meet again, and when they do, Seneca doesn’t seem very pleased with the concerned Dylan’s forcing her way into her living space. Eventually, she overcomes her fear of her own reactions to Dylan.
The two women begin a tentative friendship, and although Seneca isn’t forthcoming with the details of her life and her past, Dylan reveals a great deal of angst about family pressures and expectations. In addition, Dylan spent a year abroad, away from her friends and now finds that she’s grown beyond them, finding them inane and unrewarding. Seneca, however, is someone with whom she wants to spend time.
Seneca’s mysterious past is a stumbling block to the relationship that might blossom between her and Dylan, so Dylan must learn to approach Seneca slowly, and with care. Seneca, for her part, must learn to overcome her past and her fears. As the relationship grows, it is Seneca’s childlike simplicity, couched in innocent questions in an attempt to understand Dylan which makes Dylan begin to question her own motivations and goals in life.
The storyline is littered with hints in word, phrase, and reaction alluding to a past that has left Seneca hurt and distressed. Only when the new college sports trainer comes on to the scene and takes a reluctant Seneca under her wing, does Seneca finally find a mentor she can trust—and it’s a good thing—because when trouble comes knocking, it manifests in ways that Seneca could never have imagined—and she’s not the only one who might suffer.
Through the course of the novel, some minor continuity-related editing issues slightly detract from the overall story. Otherwise, this is a deeply moving account of a young woman trying to raise herself from the ashes of a youth-gone-wrong. Thoma has given us a redemptive tale—and Seneca isn’t the only one who needs saving. Told with just enough wit and humor to break the tension that arises from living with villainous ghosts from the past, this is a tale woven into a narrative tapestry of healing and wholeness.
By Jesse J. Thoma
Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 9781626390522, 229 pp.