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The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel
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Published:
Harper 2015
Lexile measure:
950L
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Description

Winner of the 2016 Alex Award

Best Book of 2015 —Kansas City Star

In this intricate novel of psychological suspense, a fatal discovery near the high school ignites a witch-hunt in a Southeast Texas refinery town, unearthing communal and family secrets that threaten the lives of the town's girls.

In Port Sabine, the air is thick with oil, superstition reigns, and dreams hang on making a winning play. All eyes are on Mercy Louis, the star of the championship girls' basketball team. Mercy seems destined for greatness, but the road out of town is riddled with obstacles. There is her grandmother, Evelia, a strict evangelical who has visions of an imminent Rapture and sees herself as the keeper of Mercy's virtue. There are the cryptic letters from Charmaine, the mother who abandoned Mercy at birth. And then there's Travis, the boy who shakes the foundation of her faith.

At the periphery of Mercy's world floats team manager Illa Stark, a lonely wallflower whose days are spent caring for a depressed mother crippled in a refinery accident. Like the rest of the town, Illa is spellbound by Mercy's beauty and talent, but a note discovered in Mercy's gym locker reveals that her life may not be as perfect as it appears.

The last day of school brings the disturbing discovery, and as summer unfolds and the police investigate, every girl becomes a suspect. When Mercy collapses on the opening night of the season, Evelia prophesies that she is only the first to fall, and soon, other girls are afflicted by the mysterious condition, sending the town into a tailspin, and bringing Illa and Mercy together in an unexpected way.

Evocative and unsettling, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis charts the downfall of one town's golden girl while exploring the brutality and anxieties of girlhood in America.

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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
03/10/2015
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780062319111
ASIN:
B00KVI77O8
Lexile measure:
950
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Citations
APA Citation (style guide)

Keija Parssinen. (2015). The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel. Harper.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Keija Parssinen. 2015. The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel. Harper.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Keija Parssinen, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel. Harper, 2015.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Keija Parssinen. The Unraveling of Mercy Louis: A Novel. Harper, 2015. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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Date Updated:
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        Keija Parssinen is the author of The Ruins of Us, which won a Michener-Copernicus Award. Raised in Saudi Arabia and Texas, she is a graduate of Princeton University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. Parssinen directs the Quarry Heights Writers' Workshop and lives in Missouri with her husband and son.

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fullDescription

Winner of the 2016 Alex Award

Best Book of 2015 —Kansas City Star

In this intricate novel of psychological suspense, a fatal discovery near the high school ignites a witch-hunt in a Southeast Texas refinery town, unearthing communal and family secrets that threaten the lives of the town's girls.

In Port Sabine, the air is thick with oil, superstition reigns, and dreams hang on making a winning play. All eyes are on Mercy Louis, the star of the championship girls' basketball team. Mercy seems destined for greatness, but the road out of town is riddled with obstacles. There is her grandmother, Evelia, a strict evangelical who has visions of an imminent Rapture and sees herself as the keeper of Mercy's virtue. There are the cryptic letters from Charmaine, the mother who abandoned Mercy at birth. And then there's Travis, the boy who shakes the foundation of her faith.

At the periphery of Mercy's world floats team manager Illa Stark, a lonely wallflower whose days are spent caring for a depressed mother crippled in a refinery accident. Like the rest of the town, Illa is spellbound by Mercy's beauty and talent, but a note discovered in Mercy's gym locker reveals that her life may not be as perfect as it appears.

The last day of school brings the disturbing discovery, and as summer unfolds and the police investigate, every girl becomes a suspect. When Mercy collapses on the opening night of the season, Evelia prophesies that she is only the first to fall, and soon, other girls are afflicted by the mysterious condition, sending the town into a tailspin, and bringing Illa and Mercy together in an unexpected way.

Evocative and unsettling, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis charts the downfall of one town's golden girl while exploring the brutality and anxieties of girlhood in America.

gradeLevels
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      • value: Grade 6
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Emily St. John Mandel, Book of the Month pick
      • content: "Parssinen has created fully realized teen characters in a small, religious Southern town straight out of a Carson McCullers short story."
      • premium: False
      • source: Time Out New York
      • content: "An intricate and suspenseful literary novel that makes you want to slow down to appreciate Parssinen's rich prose. . . . A compelling, thought-provoking story."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kansas City Star
      • content: "Blend H.G. Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights" and Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" with Laura Moriarty's "The Center of Everything" and you would have the flavor of this atmospheric book."
      • premium: False
      • source: Dallas Morning News
      • content: "A powerful novel that beautifully demonstrates how we grow and change. . . . Parssinen is an author to keep in our sights."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
      • content: "A propulsive, soulful novel about heat of all kinds: the sultry oppressiveness of a bayou summer, the searing power of first love and of religious fervor, the sweaty euphoria of sports, the unpredictable crackle of adolescence. Parssinen's storytelling grabs, her characters haunt."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kathleen Grissom, New York Times Bestselling author of The Kitchen House
      • content: "Beautifully written and skillfully crafted, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is a compelling tale of longing and loss that evocatively examines the harsh realities of female adolescence."
      • premium: False
      • source: New York Times Book Review
      • content: "Rapturous. . . . Like a deft Texas two-step, Parssinen's work swings through local terror and youthful awakening."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia
      • content: "Keija Parssinen's novel is a pitch perfect look at where we so often go wrong in raising our girls, using religion as a weapon against female desire. With echoes of Megan Abbott and Stephen King, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is bravely unsettling."
      • premium: False
      • source: Booklist
      • content: "A thrilling mystery that combines the power of Stephen King's CARRIE with those same accusatory girls from the Salem Witch trials . . . A rich and compelling novel."
      • premium: False
      • source: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet
      • content: "A page-turning oracle of a novel and a chilling reminder of the consequences rendered when young women are exalted as pillars of perfection and demonized for daring to be human."
      • premium: False
      • source: Cosmopolitan
      • content: "The solid pacing and strong characters provide a captivating read with the same tension and pleasures of being caught up in a well-matched and high-energy basketball game."
      • premium: False
      • source: Ann Imig, Founder & Editor, Listen to Your Mother
      • content: "Vivid imagery...mysteries swirl about the town...Like the best-seller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the ending is not neatly wrapped up with all questions answered. That's life. There is always uncertainty. Unlike Flynn, Parssinen offers hope that better days lie ahead."
      • premium: False
      • source: Hello Giggles
      • content: "The language is lyrical and the story beyond gripping. . . . This is a book you can truly get lost in, and trust me, you will not want to be found."
      • premium: False
      • source: Ploughshares
      • content: "Beautiful and awful, enraging and sad, atmospheric and page-turning: an accomplished novel."
      • premium: False
      • source: Bustle
      • content: "A mysterious murder sends a quiet town—and a quiet girl—into turmoil."
      • premium: False
      • source: Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements
      • content: "A powerful and profoundly haunting novel—as explosive as a thriller, as wise as a myth, and as chilling as the news. . . Parssinen illuminates the dark heart of a modern hysteria and the complicated humanity of the people caught in its grip."
      • premium: False
      • source: Jennifer duBois, author of Cartwheel and A Partial History of Lost Causes
      • content: "This small oil refinery town is the perfect setting for Keija Parssinen's winning Southern gothic novel about high school basketball star Mercy Louis. . . . This book may keep you up at night, but it's worth it."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Week
      • content: "Parssinen weaves romance, mystery and fantasy with contemporary issues. Mercy's story depicts what happens when girls are expected to be perfect and end up being human."
      • premium: False
      • source: Attica Locke, author of Pleasantville and Black Water Rising
      • content: "A suspenseful novel about a Texas town's golden girl and the mysterious condition that takes her down."
      • premium: False
      • source: Shelf Awareness
      • content: "Parssinen is an incredible writer and storyteller. . . . She transports you to teenaged life in small town Texas, and presents the evangelical and psychic/psychological with nuance and thoughtfulness. . . . Keija's storytelling grips, while dangling you beyond the precipice of comfort."
      • premium: False
      • source: Library Journal
      • content: "Urgent, deliciously dark and sumptuously gothic. . . . Like the girls on Mercy's basketball team, who 'balance so perfectly between control and chaos,' Parssinen has an intuitive grasp of language's vital rhythms."
      • premium: False
      • source: Missouri Life
      • content: "An impeccably rendered depiction of the strains of adolescence. . . . Broadly relevant to our present cultural moment . . . This is a beautifully written,...
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        January 12, 2015
        Parssinen follows up The Ruins of Us, her debut, a portrait of a Saudia Arabian family in turmoil, with a less-nuanced tale of extremism, this time in Port Sabine, a Gulf Coast town redolent of “swamp rot and refinery gas.” Contributing to the miasma-like atmosphere are factors environmental and moral. As Port Sabine’s refinery spews noxious fumes into the air, the discovery of a baby’s corpse in a dumpster unleashes a pervasive sense of unease. Soon the town finds itself in the grips of religious fundamentalism, witch hunts, misogyny, and a “mass psychogenic disorder” in which girls lose control of their bodies. At the center of it all is Mercy Louis, a seventh-generation Cajun and star basketball player who was abandoned by her teenaged mother as an infant. She is raised by her grandmother, Maw Maw, a zealot who demands that Mercy, tainted by her supposed “weak blood,” be “twice as good as other girls.” Enamored of Mercy is Illa Stark, a shy photographer whose mother has never recovered from injuries sustained in a devastating refinery explosion. Mercy’s and Illa’s respective family dramas and sexual awakenings are nicely drawn, but the surrounding characters—fanatics, slimy energy executives, and poetry-spouting boyfriends—tend to be two-dimensional and the dialogue occasionally melodramatic. Despite some beautifully eerie touches, Parssinen’s combustible mix of Bayou gothic, morality tale, and coming-of-age story never quite ignites.

      • premium: True
      • source: School Library Journal
      • content:

        December 1, 2015

        An adult title that could have easily been published as YA. The teen protagonists are complicated and damaged, and the adults around them are clueless and sometimes cruel. At the heart of the story is Mercy Louis, a basketball star with a lifelong streak of control and perfection. She is at the end of her junior year in high school and coming off a devastating loss at the State basketball championship. What was supposed to be a triumph for her, her team, and her small Texas town, Port Sabine, has her numb with embarrassment. Like a harbinger of bad news, the team's loss begins a downward spiral for both Mercy and the town itself. The body of a newborn baby is found in a dumpster, and Port Sabine becomes a place that looks at its teenage girls with suspicion and contempt as police search for the child's mother. Along with the heat, tensions rise throughout the summer at home and in town. Mercy's long-lost mother reappears in her life, and the teen falls in love. Mercy finds herself wondering if being perfect and staying in control for God and basketball is what she wants after all. Her doubts will resonate with teens, especially those who have become disenchanted with authority figures and adult hypocrisy. Port Sabine's obsession with both Mercy and the virtues she represents make this dark coming-of-age story a compelling read. VERDICT Parssinen has created fully realized teen characters in a religious Southern small town straight out of a Carson McCullers short story.-Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Brooklyn Public Library

        Copyright 2015 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        February 15, 2015

        More is poisoned than just the air in the small refinery town of Port Sabine, TX. The discovery of a dead newborn in a dumpster brings out the worst of the community, firing up small-minded politicians and launching a witch hunt to find and punish the mother. It is no wonder that Mercy Louis and her fellow high school seniors are scrambling for passports out of town. As a basketball standout Mercy should have it made. An athletic scholarship is on the cards until the pressures from home, the town, and her own fears cause her body to crumble. Mercy's spasms affect those around her, including her rigidly fundamentalist grandmother, her best friend, Annie, who uses sex to compensate for unloving parents, and Illa, the self-effacing team manager trapped into caring for a bitter mother. They will betray one another before finding ways to face fears, uncover secrets, and offer forgiveness. VERDICT The solid pacing and strong characters in the author's second novel (after The Ruins of Us) provide a captivating read with the same tension and pleasures of being caught up in a well-matched and high-energy basketball game. [See Prepub Alert, 9/29/14.]--Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC

        Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

popularity
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shortDescription

In Port Sabine, the air is thick with oil, superstition reigns, and dreams hang on making a winning play. All eyes are on Mercy Louis, the star of the championship girls' basketball team. Mercy seems destined for greatness, but the road out of town is riddled with obstacles. There is her grandmother Evelia, a strict evangelical who has visions of an imminent Rapture and sees herself as the keeper of Mercy's virtue. And then there are the cryptic letters from Charmaine, the mother who abandoned Mercy at birth.

At the periphery of Mercy's world floats team manager Illa Stark, a lonely wallflower. Like the rest of the town, Illa is spellbound by Mercy's beauty and talent, but a note discovered in a gym locker reveals that Mercy's life may not be as perfect as it appears.

The last day of school brings the disturbing find, and as summer unfolds and the police investigate, every girl becomes a suspect. At the opening game of the season, Mercy collapses—and Evelia...

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A Novel
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Harper