The Colour of MilkThe Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Published by Ecco

From the publisher:

Mary is a sharp-tongued farm girl, and she will do anything to learn to read and write. But as she does so through four seasons of one extraordinary year, she discovers that nothing comes for free. Told by a narrator whose urgent, unforgettable voice will break your heart, The Colour of Milk is an astonishing novel.

I’d never heard of this book until Jill reviewed it, and she spoke so highly of the novel that I couldn’t help but pick it up right away. You guys, The Colour of Milk is a devastating novel. Heartbreaking, sob-inducing, difficult to read, but oh so worth it. It’s also quite beautiful.

Mary’s life circumstances are beyond what most people can comprehend. The story takes place in the 1800’s, so obviously life was different from it is today, but for our fifteen-year-old narrator, things are particularly difficult. Her family lives in dire poverty, and the only reason they have food to eat is because of the farm that Mary and her three sisters are forced to work on, all day every day. Her father is abusive and besides working the girls practically to death, he beats them when they do not perform to his standards. When Mary’s father decides he can’t afford four daughters, he sells her to a Vicar who lives close by so she can care for his sick wife – but her new home brings even more cruelty and trauma than her father’s had.

There’s so much to love about this novel. It’s difficult to understand how tragic Mary’s life really is, but what’s even more difficult to understand is how she manages to keep a mostly positive attitude throughout all of it. She is a character you can’t help but admire, and the way the book is written – as if this poor farm girl with zero formal education is writing it herself – endears the reader even more to our narrator.

Mary becomes “free” in an emotional and mental sense when she learns to read and write, and I love what The Colour of Milk is saying about the power of words to help and to heal a person. I can’t even imagine what it would be like not to have the privilege of the written word in my life, but Mary is a girl who had to seriously struggle in order to learn to read and write. It made me sit back and think how the written word has gotten me through some really tough times, and how it truly has the power to change lives. It was pretty incredible to read about that through Mary’s eyes.

The end of this book shattered me. And that’s all I’ll say about  it.

Read The Colour of Milk! It’s a slim novel with a lot to say. I promise, you will fall in love with Mary just like I did.