In the first chapter of Girl Unmoored, the reader is introduced to Apron Bramhall, Jesus Christ, and a small portion of the large cast of characters that populate this impressive debut. Jennifer Gooch Hummer has written a unique story of a precocious girl grieving the loss of her mother and, among other things, blossoming into a young woman.
Jesus Christ turns out to be Mike Weller, who plays the son of God in a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar. After seeing the show with her best friend Rennie, Apron runs into Jesus everywhere. Conveniently, one of her neighbors is Mike’s grandmother, a woman obsessed with the color orange and whose nose is often bleeding.
Apron’s father is cynical and in denial, carrying on a relationship with Marguerite, or M, a woman who once worked as the in-home nurse to his late wife. Because he is a Latin professor, the language has a large role in the book. Each chapter begins with a Latin proverb, foreshadowing the events to come. M is cruel and manipulative, only interested in Apron’s father because she wants to stay in America and avoid being deported back to her native Brazil. Apron’s father, blind to M’s hidden motives, decides to marry her. Not soon after, she reveals she’s expecting a child.
Feeling abandoned and lonely, lost at sea, Apron begins working at Scent Appeal, the flower shop Mike owns with his boyfriend, Chad. Chad is HIV-positive in 1985, a time when homosexuals are routinely blamed for the epidemic and seldom accepted for who they are. An unconventional friendship blooms.
As Apron grows closer to Mike and Chad, she drifts from Rennie, who has replaced her with a more popular friend, a girl higher in the food chain that is adolescent social class. M moves further along in her pregnancy, while Chad moves further along in his illness. In a cruel twist of fate, Apron must watch a loved one succumb to disease for the second time in her life; her mother’s death is never described in detail, but the reader is given enough information to infer the events that led to it.
Girl Unmoored crosses genre. The book takes place the summer before Apron enters 8th grade, and can therefore be considered Young Adult. On top of Apron’s coming-of-age, though, the book also addresses more mature themes, such as AIDS, grief, and sexuality. Jennifer Gooch Hummer’s story refuses to fall victim to category, which works to its advantage.
In a later chapter, she writes:
I looked back at all those people I didn’t know and thought about how small your heart is but how big of a space it takes up. And how, even though you can’t see it, that heart space grows so quietly across a room or up some stairs into someone else’s living room, that even if you never step foot in it again, the air in there is changed forever. (298)
This passage is a fine demonstration of both Apron’s wisdom and the author’s talent. While the narrative is realistically a child’s, its thematic concerns cross boundaries and often resonate at higher levels.
Girl Unmoored’s ending is resolved enough to be satisfying, but open-ended enough to leave the reader questioning. Apron enters 8th grade unsure of the direction her life is heading, but more confident that she’ll find her way. Her family reforms and adjusts, her relationship with her father improving as they both accept her mother’s passing and a future without her. Apron, still only just beginning adolescence, has grown wiser through her experiences. Her relationship with M remains delicate but, perceptive as she is, Apron knows she won’t always understand the people in her life—and maybe she’s not meant to, either.