Review: Young woman discovers the truth about dandelions

Photo credit: Deb Stephenson, DLS Photography.

Jennifer Cox is a communications graduate from the University of Windsor who is now a computer trainer for the Avon Maitland District School Board. She lives in Clinton with her husband and two children. She writes when she can find the time.


At first I wasn’t sure if I liked Mara, the main character in local author Hayley Linfield’s first novel, The Truth About Dandelions. But as I read, I realized that it was what happened to Mara that I didn’t like.

I have to say, while I love to read and usually read books quickly, unable to put them down, I am not one to remember or dwell on details. A book often leaves me with a certain feeling, some thoughts, and some sort of meaning comes out of it. I learn something about myself, and how I feel about different issues, or people. I know that a book is good if it made me feel something. This book made me feel anger, sadness, disgust, relief and happiness.

The book centres around Mara’s life as a typical university student studying classic English literature. She spends too much of her time partying and sleeping around, trying desperately to bury her childhood emotional scars. It seems so contradictory that Mara reads Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy novels, full of society’s expectations of what is proper and yet she behaves like a tramp. Throughout the book Linfield makes effective use of point of view when she switches from first person to third-person omniscient to take the story back to Mara’s childhood. We are immediately there, like in a movie where the scene suddenly changes to a different time and place.

I found the drunken anonymous sex scenes tough to get through because I knew that it was really damaging to Mara and I worried for her. I enjoyed the flashbacks throughout the book to Mara’s childhood that reveal why she struggles with extreme low self esteem and bitterness.

As a child, Mara is dealt a number of blows. She loses her apparently religious father when he leaves her mother for another woman. Her mother, who becomes bitter and harsh, is murdered by a homeless man. Mara must go live with her father and the other woman in London, England. He has become a drunk and he ends up committing suicide. If this is not tragic enough, Mara’s Grandma dies in a plane crash on the way to London to rescue her. In the middle of these tragedies, we see Mara has become hardened already to life when the young girl tells her Grandma to stop crying about her daughter’s death.

Mara ends up living with her cousin and her cousin’s partner “Auntie” in Toronto.

I was hopeful that things would turn around for Mara here but it was not to be. She is somewhat of an outsider and ridiculed because of her two “moms.” Her first sexual experience at a very tender age is heartbreaking as she believes that giving in to the boy “seemed easier than resisting.” She was grateful for the attention.

Mara struggles through high school as somewhat of a misfit, except with the boys. By the time Mara gets to university she has fulfilled the meaning of her name, bitterness. On the surface, she seems like a girl who knows what she wants. She lets on that she’s okay with anonymous flings but her behaviour escalates. Just when I thought she had learned her lesson she got herself into the most degrading and disrespectful situation which becomes a turning point, a wake up call to her.

Mara does have a few significant relationships on her road to self-respect and peace. I don’t want to ruin the plot by revealing how Mara ends up but I will say with relief that it ends well for her. But only after significant turmoil, several relationships, a car accident and a plane crash. Sound like a soap opera? It could have been, but there’s more depth and honesty to Mara than any soap opera character. She is a conflicted soul. I felt weak after finishing the book, feeling like I had gone through Mara’s life as her best friend, experiencing her pain, her strength, and finally her peace with her place in life.

The parenting in Mara’s life had greatly failed her and as a mom I felt a sense of protection over her. I wanted to go get Mara, and all the other girls like her, bring her home and tell her everything would be okay, that she didn’t have to allow those things to crush her dignity, that she deserved better. The harsh sexual scenes involving Mara were tough to read because I felt helpless and sad for her. I think that Linfield is reflecting in Mara a very common feeling in young women today…there are a lot of hurt and sad girls out there, acting tough, like it doesn’t matter at all when deep down it does.

I don’t think I am reading too much into the book when I say that Linfield is making a comment on the judgments we make of people by their actions and appearance when really our perception can be completely wrong. The novel reminded me that even people who appear to be intelligent and strong can be hurting so much that it pushes them to behave in not so intelligent ways. With Mara, Linfield shows that how a person functions in their daily life doesn’t always indicate the level of emotional health they are experiencing.

Thankfully Mara meets Jack in an unlucky/lucky kind of way when he runs into her with his car on a snowy day in the middle of an Ottawa winter. Jack becomes the presence that pushes Mara down the path of healing and feeling better about herself. She sees in him what she wants for herself: “There’s a vulnerability about him that’s beautiful…Jack’s beauty is different. With Jack, it’s his whole being. I wish I were beautiful in that way.”

Jack isn’t like any of the other guys she has known, or barely known. He seems to sense how Mara normally is with men and he does what he feels is right, not starting a physical relationship at all. He knows that he wants more from her, he loves her, but he needs Mara to know it as well.

I will leave the rest of the plot for you to discover. In the end I was happy to have read the book despite some struggles. I will never forget Mara and her life story. The book reminded me of many things that are important in life and the most important thing I am left with is how important it is to instill love and respect in our daughters and our sons, so they are able to feel these things without a doubt for themselves.

Hayley’s book is available through her website. It is also available for Kobo and Kindle.

Written by on September 21, 2012 in Entertainment and Arts, Jennifer Cox - No comments

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