Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ginny Moon, by Benjamin Ludwig

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Benjamin Ludwig’s debut novel, written entirely in the voice of a fourteen-year-old autistic girl, is a brilliant achievement.

Ginny Moon is a fourteen-year-old girl with autism. At the age of nine she was taken away from her abusive birth mother, Gloria. Since then she has been living with different sets of foster parents, but due to her behavioural issues these arrangements have not worked out. Now Ginny is living with Maura and Brian, a conscientious middle-class couple who are expecting a baby. She calls them her Forever Mom and Forever Dad, a somewhat ironic description seeing their relationship is anything but stable.

Mentally, Ginny is still living in the past. When she was nine-years-old and living with her abusive birth mother, she took care of her “Baby Doll”, an unexplained figure we learn more about as the novel progresses. Ginny is determined to run away with Gloria and live in Canada, where she can again be with her “Baby Doll” and look after her. Despite her abusive upbringing, Ginny colludes with Gloria to get herself kidnapped. Things don’t go to plan and there is a bust. Gloria’s sister, Crystal, who attempted the kidnapping, ends up in jail. Having failed at the kidnapping attempt, Gloria starts sending gifts with notes attached, clearly a breach of the restraining order that has been imposed on her. All of this puts enormous strain on Maura and Brian’s relationship. Brian's health suffers (he is hospitalised at one stage) and Maura has a near nervous breakdown. They find it nearly impossible to cope with Ginny's erratic, duplicitous and often destructive behaviour.

All the while Ginny has been seeing a counsellor, Patrice, to try and get her on the right track. Near the end of the novel a breakthrough is achieved during these sessions and some of the reasons for Ginny’s seemingly destructive behaviour is explained.

Ginny Moon is Benjamin Ludwig's debut novel. Written in the voice of fourteen-year-old Ginny, the book's great achievement is in creating such a totally believable character and sustaining her for 360 pages. The pace never flags; every page is gripping. Ginny is frustrating in her single mindedness and her poor communication skills, but also fascinating for her skewered perspective. Surprisingly, she has touches of humour too.

A sense of suspense is maintained as Ginny attempts to run away with her abusive mother, Gloria, and as the reader gradually learns more of Ginny's complicated motivations. Indeed, there are aspects of the story that read almost like a thriller. All the pieces of this psychological puzzle are put together, piece by piece, until a full picture emerges. Yet this is done in a naturalistic way that doesn't feel over played or gimmicky.

Benjamin Ludwig writes from experience. He and his wife have adopted a teenage girl with autism. There is a realism that certainly comes through in the story, especially in the descriptions of the Forever Parents, Maura and Brian, who are decent people but also human in their frustrations, anger and inability to cope.  Ginny Moon is ultimately an uplifting story, despite all the unenviable difficulties everyone goes through. It's a story about parents, the heartbreaking hardships that they go through and the rewards that perseverance and unconditional love can bring.

Ginny Moon, by Benjamin Ludwig. Published by Harlequin. ISBN: 9781489220707 RRP: $29.99

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