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". . . Years ago Natalie had devised a strategy where she allows herself two lies per season so that she can get around her mother’s strictness—and this summer she goes way over her quota. . . ."
Stray by Stacey Goldblatt tells the story of Natalie Kaplan, a sixteen-year-old girl who has decided that to go beyond the smothering boundaries set by her mother and live the life of a “normal” teenager. She feels “socially stunted” by her mother’s constant monitoring.
Natalie lives with her mother, a veterinarian, and her grandmother, a holocaust survivor who married one of her Yankee liberators. Natalie’s father, a famous dog behaviorist with an impulse control problem of his own, left his family for one of his clients. Sadly for Natalie, her mother’s trust issues from her husband’s desertion translate into her daughter not enjoying the freedom that many of her friends enjoy.
Then suddenly Natalie learns that the son of one of her mother’s college friends is coming to spend the summer working at her mother’s clinic. And this isn’t just any boy, but the stupid boy who fed chocolate to Natalie’s dog and made him deathly ill. And this stupid boy is taking the room over the garage that Natalie had planned to redecorate and use as her own for the summer. Natalie feels her life is over.
That is, until Carver arrives and she decides that things might not be so bad after all. He is borderline hot! But her mother makes it immediately clear he’s off limits. So Natalie resigns herself to a summer of work at the clinic ignoring Carver and summer school with friends Nina and Kirby.
But in summer school she’s studying the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights so she decides to exert her own independence by enjoying some of the summer entertainment her mother would deny her. That is, if she bothered to ask her mother. Years ago Natalie had devised a strategy where she allows herself two lies per season so that she can get around her mother’s strictness—and this summer she goes way over her quota.
Natalie goes to unchaperoned parties; she ditches school; she sneaks off to the beach with Carver, gets her “grown up” kiss from Carver, trespasses in a vacant house with Carver, and gets arrested with Carver. The upside is that her jailbird status precipitates the first real talk mother and daughter have ever had. They set new boundaries that satisfy both. The down side is that Carver is called home. Natalie now must decide how she really feels about Carver before he leaves to spend a year in Africa with his mother.
Goldblatt’s writing style is spare with little description, and there is more dialogue than narrative. The pacing is slow, and the time that passes unclear but the reader assumes it’s less than six weeks because summer school is still in session. The point of view is frustrated and confused sixteen-year-old Natalie who by the end of the book knows a little bit more about herself and her mother but still has a long way to go.
Although not groundbreaking, Stray a good read and it shows the consequences of Natalie’s and her friends’ actions.
Reviewer: Denise Lowe