Back in November I had the opportunity to review Paige Dearth’s first novel, Believe Like a Child. Later, she gracefully agreed to an interview with me, which you can read here. Now, after some great anticipation, I’ve gotten to read her latest book, When Smiles Fade. Taking place during roughly the same time as her first book, When Smiles Fade follows a young girl named Emma as she attempts to make her way through a tough childhood in Pennsylvania.
Emma and her sister, Gracie, have grown up in an extremely oppressive household. Their father, Piper, is a drunk that takes out his anger on the two of them, with Emma bearing the brunt of the assault in order to protect Gracie, who is younger and far more delicate than Emma. Despite Emma’s attempts to limit the abuse to herself only, one day Piper beats Gracie and leaves her to die in the basement of their home. That’s when Emma decides to do something to stop these abuses, but sadly it is not enough to stem the flow of abuse that she suffers from others during her life. She and Gracie eventually are able to run away and begin a new life on the streets of Philadelphia, meeting others along the way that aid them and help them to survive. Emma begins dancing at the same club that Alessa did in Believe Like a Child, and their stories overlap briefly. Just like Alessa, Emma is struggling to survive with the cards dealt to her, and is able to find a strength that she didn’t know existed deep within her. Will she and Gracie be able to find a new life outside of the abuses they both share?
When I began to read When Smiles Fade, I immediately noticed a lot of parallels to Believe Like a Child, in that a child/teen is abused in a shocking manner and must fight for survival in a very difficult environment. While Believe Like a Child outlined Alessa’s story and touched on Alessa’s life as a dancer and prostitute, When Smiles Fade painted a broader picture of what life on the streets was like for Gracie and Emma. Emma is a strong character, and uses her strength to protect herself and her sister, even if it means committing grave crimes in order to do so. This brought up the question as to the legality of the choices that Emma makes in order to save herself and her sister. On one hand they are subjected to brutal attacks that leave them incredibly battered, but there is also an element of premeditation to Emma’s crimes in order to remove the sources of abuse in her life altogether. Although they may have not been legal, they were most certainly morally right in my opinion, as the suffering both girls had endured because of these people was too great to ignore.
Besides these darker parts, this book has brighter spots, such as when Gracie and Emma meet another homeless teen named Sydney who helps them find shelter and a sense of belonging with her group of friends. Sydney is a great representation of all the good that people can do to help others when they truly have nothing left. It should be everyone’s goal to be more like Sydney and realize that even though someone is without a place to stay, they are still entitled to just as many rights and basic human needs just like all of us. In short, Dearth’s book is a great continuation of her look into the life of those who are abused and neglected. It is a great wake up call for all of us to help those in need, so go volunteer your time and help those who are less fortunate than you.
4 out of 5 stars
When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth
Paperback: 470 pages
Special thanks to Paige Dearth for my review copy!