If there were a category named “Sweet and Spiritual Without Being Preachy” or “How to Find Your Wings in A World of Worry,” this book would definitely be near the top of the list. Featuring themes of family bondage, secrets, and the pull for something more as experienced by the protagonist, Millie, Into the Free manages to put bones and a heart together to explore meaning and growth through an unforgettable character.
The challenges Millie faces as the young caretaker of her unstable mother in a hardscrabble part of rural Mississippi are multitude. Yet always through the pain and insanity of her mother, the reader can sense the abiding love they have for one another. When a doctor comes to “Check on” her mother, now in the hospital, instead of “Shutting her up” as the doctor suggests, Millie joins in her mama’s seemingly disconnected ramblings” “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.”
The gypsies that meet up in the local town once a year are one of the few things Millie looks forward to with anticipation. The colorful clothing, the dancing, the ambiance they bring to the bleak circumstances brightens Millie’s spirits and makes her contemplate joining them when she has little left to keep her in Mississippi. What she does with her limited choices and circumstances form the backbone of the story. With a light, lyrical prose that lifts the heavy subjects in this book, Ms. Cantrell never forgets the reader while she writes. I sensed the overwhelming odds against Millie without ever feeling that she wouldn’t make it, that in her own, true way, she would find herself set loose, obstacles be damned. Love, need, and the search for stability while still maintaining one’s own identity are universal ideas for women’s fiction, and Ms. Cantrell explores all of these, along with the search for faith in a world that appears destined to break it.
I proudly give this book 3.5 /4 Stars
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