Young teenaged girl Venus Black is smart and strong and certain. And she's just seen her family implode. She picked up the gun and pointed it, but she let fate take care of the rest. Unfortunately for her, the bullet found its way into the head of her stepfather, who wasn't supposed to be in gun's trajectory. But he was, and she is immediately arrested. In trying to figure out how to piece her family back together, Venus' mother asks a friend to look after Venus' younger brother, Leo, whose autism makes communication difficult for him. But more devastation befalls the family when Leo goes missing and cannot be found.
More than five years pass as Venus does her time in a juvenile facility. When she finally gets out, she has little more than the clothes on her back, a stolen identity, a heavy burden of bitterness for her mother, and the strong desire to move away from Seattle and start over. She finds a job serving coffee in a diner and a small room to rent where she can save up to buy a car. But the room comes with a caveat--she has to help babysit the homeowner's niece, Piper, a bratty nine-year-old who makes an instant connection to Venus, even when Venus tries to discourage her.
As the weeks pass, Venus works, hangs out with Piper (who starts to grow on her), and tries not to flirt with the cute customer who keeps coming in the diner and sitting at her tables. She stays true to her plan to save for a car so she can move to California. With her new identity, she blends in, keeping her head down and her customers happy. But it's only so long before her past comes calling, and Venus has to face all the anger and bitterness, all the worry about her brother Leo, and all the guilt she feels for what happened to her family.
My Name Is Venus Black is a surprisingly heart-warming story of love, family, starting over, and making peace with your past. Venus is such a smart and amazing kid that you want to stick with her to the end, to find out what really happened that night and what her future holds. Although terrible things happened to this family, the years also brought love, friendship, faith, and healing. Venus and her mother have both found ways to move forward, and reading their story is a beautiful reminder of the capacity of the human spirit.
This debut novel from Heather Lloyd is set in the 1980s, which brings several fun surprises, and the beautiful writing just keeps the pages turning. What could be a maudlin, dark novel is instead a lovely experience of warmth, humanity, and compassion. I strongly recommend this one for adults and teens. It's definitely a keeper.
Galleys for My Name Is Venus Black were provided by The Dial Press (Random House) through NetGalley, with many thanks.