“Cosette’s Tribe,” by Leah Griffith. Nonpareil Press. 298 pages. $24.99 clothbound, $14.99 paper.
This remarkable first novel deals with the sexual abuse of a young girl in a manner that is at once chilling and uplifting. What’s chilling is that the girl, Cosette, seems to have no way to escape from her stepfather’s perverse needs. What’s uplifting is how Cosette doesn’t allow this tragic predicament to totally define or overwhelm her. Yes, she is a victim. However, she is much more than that.
Cosette, nine years old when we meet her, lives with her mother and two older sisters on the poor side of an unnamed New England town. She can’t remember her father, and she senses her mother’s loneliness. It’s Cosette’s idea to introduce her to a single man who is the uncle of a neighborhood child. Before long, Ken is taking over the household and sexually handling Cosette. He’s somewhat of a bully, and yet Cosette sees her mother becoming more and more attached to Ken – giving in to his demands.
Leah Griffith, who narrates the book in the first person from Cosette’s point of view, lets us surmise how to understand the mother’s behavior. She is a once needy for companionship and financial assistance, and at the same time fearful of Ken’s explosive temper and autocratic nature. She is one of those people who hopes for the best without having a rational basis for that hope. Cosette loves her mother and fears making trouble for her by letting her know what Ken is doing. Cosette’s worst fears are realized when her mother marries Ken.
We follow Cosette’s plight as she turns ten, eleven, and twelve. Ms. Griffith is amazing in portraying her character’s steps toward physical, intellectual, and emotional maturation. Cosette plans her days around dodging Ken’s attempts to catch her alone. But over and over again she is trapped. She has found a way to tolerate the inevitable without allowing herself to be crushed by it. Somehow, she is psychologically resilient.
Part of this resilience comes from her imaginative nature. Part of it comes from her relationships with her sisters, with young her friends, and with the two other men in her life. (The priest she visits to confess her sins is no help at all.)
To read this review in its entirety, as if appears in the August 2, 2012 Charlotte County Florida Weekly and the August 9 Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Leah Griffith
Readers can find out more about the book and its author at http://cosettestribe.com.