Summary: Living with her reclusive father after her mother walks out on them both, Sandra is trying to sort out what direction her life should take upon her graduation from high school. Sandra feels abandoned by her mother who left no contact information, but at the same time feels she can hardly blame her for wanting to get away from Sandra’s father and his dark memories of living in Germany before and during World War II. Aided at first by her boyfriend Danny, Sandra begins a search for her mother, finding clues to where she went in unexpected places. Sandra intends to tell her mother off if she finds her, but events conspire to show Sandra that her father is not as emotionally stunted or detached as she thinks he is.
Number of Pages: 152
Age Range: 16-18
Review: For a reluctant read, Split by Lori Weber is a complex book. Set in 1978, it features the story of Sandra and her parents, a father forever scarred by growing up in Nazi Germany and a mother who abandons her husband and daughter to carve a life of her own.
It’s complex, because at the beginning of the novel Sandra’s father is portrayed as the bad guy. Sandra believes he drove her mother away with his drinking and the fact that he lost his job due to his problems with authority. He seems to harbour little love and compassion for his daughter and wife, and when he ends up being home all the time due to his unemployment, Sandra’s mother can’t take it anymore.
But as the story develops, so do the characters of Sandra’s parents. Reading about Sandra’s father’s upbringing reveals the depth of his motivations, and how it would be difficult for him to love or to trust anyone after what he had been through. He blames himself for his wife leaving, but like an incident with his sister during his childhood, he is uncertain about how he could have prevented it even though he desperately wanted to. His story inspires empathy, and when he steps up in his role of Sandra’s father, it is a welcome display of his love and desire to protect her.
Sandra’s mother, on the other hand, becomes a less sympathetic character. She leaves her daughter and husband without offering contact information before her daughter’s high school graduation. Her motivations to start a new life on her own are perhaps understandable given the role of marriage during the time period, but her actions come off as selfish. I think she becomes unable to deal with her husband’s sorrow any longer, and that drives her to leave without looking back.
What’s interesting though is that Sandra comes to the same conclusions. She begins the book blaming her mother for leaving her alone with her horrible father, but by the end she comes to see her mother as being like the next door neighbour’s dog, an under-loved animal who just wanted to be free. There’s an immaturity to Sandra’s mother’s decisions, and I wondered why she decided to marry such a haunted man in the first place. Perhaps because of the shock factor of marrying a German at that time.
Sandra’s own decisions are influenced by her feelings over her parents’ split. Loneliness drives her into an ill-advised relationship with a childhood friend. She puts off deciding what to do with her life after high school because she’s dealing with her feelings over being abandoned. And in the end she realises that she is more like her father than she thought she was, but being like him is not the completely horrible thing she once thought it was.
Weber, as always, has an excellent command of character growth, even in the limited space of 152 pages. Due to mature themes I would recommend it for older teens, but this is a well-developed read for adults as well.
“I want to kill him, yet I know there’s a disturbing truth to his words. My father and I are both workers. We’ll both be spending our days in company-issued uniforms. Does that mean I’m embarking on a similar path to his? Will I too be working at the same job for the next two decades, leaving the house every morning before the sun is up? Oh well, who cares? At least I’ll have my own apartment and I won’t have to lock my bedroom door or cook for three people anymore.
I’ll just have myself to look after.” – Sandra from Split by Lori Weber, page 73
“‘What are you so hot about?’ he asks. I don’t answer. I’m too angry to even look at him anymore, and yet I can’t seem to tell him why I’m angry. It’s just like between me and my father. I feel the anger, yet I can’t seem to tell him why I’m angry. It’s all too hard to untangle or explain. The anger is just there, like a solid wall, one that you can’t get around but can’t break into understandable pieces either.” – Sandra from Split by Lori Weber, page 96