The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.
Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.
Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.
My Thoughts: In Merit’s first person narrative, we follow the story in Without Merit. It is easy to empathize with her pain, as she is up front about how she feels in her family. Excluded, ignored, and blamed for everything that goes wrong.
When she meets Sagan in an antique store, he kisses her, mistaking her for her identical twin Honor; after he realizes his error and backs away, her feelings of self-worth plummet. Over the next couple of weeks, she shuts herself off from everyone while she clings to some mistaken thoughts and feelings about the relationship between Sagan and Honor.
Seeing events from Merit’s point of view, it was easy to hate on Honor, her brother Utah, and even the newest house guest, Luck, who turned out to be stepmother Victoria’s half-brother. Just when I thought I couldn’t hate the rest of her family more, a near tragic event forced a turnaround, and they all began to share their feelings with one another. After a lot of in-fighting and anger in the process, big secrets came out, including what none of them knew about their agoraphobic mother who has been living in the basement.
Can a family as dysfunctional as the Voss tribe discover new ways to relate to one another? Can Merit realize that the family will not be better off without her?
The story held its share of melodrama, but since the characters were mostly teenagers, their reactions to events were probably on target. I loved the story in the beginning, and then I started to find all the characters annoying. The positive feelings took a dive when the family did an abrupt about face, which seemed a bit unrealistic. I do like stories with hopeful endings, however, so this one earned 4 stars.