By Kris Jones
Jul 1, 2009 - 10:42:06 PM

Sixth-grader Cara comes home from school one day and is invited by her neighbor and best friend's father to see the new train display he has in the basement. Unsuspecting, she goes with him and is assaulted. In the insidious, evil way such adults have in controlling children, he warns her that no one will believe if she tells, and in fact, her parents will blame her. So she stays silent and the abuse continues. When another girl is attacked, Cara's months of abuse come to light. At last, she thinks, at last I can tell and people will believe I didn't want this. Instead, her mother--never Cara's champion to begin with--blames her for her silence and what the news of the incident does to the family's reputation. Cara can't win.

Her parents' lack of faith and others' general knowledge of the assault continue to affect Cara's life, leading her into bad choices that have even worse consequences. When her parents commit her to the mental ward at the hospital and she is horribly mistreated, her condition comes to the attention of soon-to-be doctor James Mackie. He helps Cara and assists her father to see that she needs him and his love. Though the situation is no warmer between her and her mother, Cara at least now has her dad's understanding. Then, just as she's ready to move forward into her future, he dies. It's up to Cara to care for her mother and grandmother, and here again, James Mackie happens to step in and help her.


James feels a strong attraction for the young woman, but their age difference is great--a 25 year-old man simply doesn't fit with a 17 year-old girl. It's only later, when Cara does get away to school, that she and James are able to explore their feelings. In her new-found happiness, she forgets to look over her shoulder to protect herself from life's next test of her strength, and wham! she ends up raped and beaten nearly to death.


Deciding she's a jinx and no good for any man, she sends James away and embarks on a life she never would have imagined as a little girl filled with innocence. Can she find her way to a happily-ever-after, or is Cara the ultimate victim of fate's fickle and (sometimes) dangerous nature?


In CARA, Julia Barrett once again shows us a woman who grows into her strength and character. Life knocks Cara down more times than a heavyweight boxer strikes a featherweight in a match, but she finds ways to put her life back together. That James is such an integral part of her life makes her sending him away even more angst-filled, and we feel that as readers. (James is yummy and sweet, by the way.) When she finally has had enough and decides to kick box fate in the fanny, I smiled.


CARA isn't a funny, light book, but it is a good story of a girl who grows into herself and her capabilities as a woman, gaining self-power and purpose as she does so. I also like that Ms. Barrett explores the instances of abused children and victims of rape, and does so with empathy.

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