Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.
Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. The reader tracks Turtle's escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, and watches, heart in throat, as she struggles to become her own hero--and in the process, becomes ours as well.
Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.
"There are books we like well enough to recommend, but there are a very few—To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Things They Carried—that we remember forever. To my own shortlist I can now add My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent. Fourteen-year-old Turtle Alveston is a brilliantly rendered creation, and her father is the most terrifyingly believable human monster to inhabit the pages of a novel since Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter. This book is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and uplifting." —Stephen King
“I read My Absolute Darling in one sitting, well past midnight, despite an early-morning flight: the book is that impossible to put down. Gabriel Tallent depicts Turtle's battle for her independence--body, mind, and soul--with brutal honesty and overwhelming tenderness. The result is a heartrending debut that will shock, then shake, then inspire you.” —Celeste Ng, New York Times-bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You
“It is unreal how vivid and compelling this book is. Turtle Alveston is one of the most vibrant characters I've come across in a long time, and every scene in this astonishing novel packs so much tension, so much insight, such beautiful prose and such masterful handling of detail, I simply could not stop reading.” —Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment
“Explosive…what saves this novel from collapsing into the sensationalism of its climax is the richness of the writing and the power of its verisimilitude. Gabriel Tallent is a lapidary realist, exhaustively (and beautifully) describing everything from the structure of a wild-oats seed head to the tidal wave that sweeps Jacob and Turtle out to sea…There are many elements of this story we would rather not believe — all so convincingly rendered that we can’t help but believe them.” –Boston Globe
“Tallent grew up near Mendocino and the magnificent, inhospitable landscape of northern California is itself a character here…a fast-paced adventure story…[a] strange and remarkable book.” –The Guardian