Cantankerous narrative of a girl in the logging country of the Pacific Northwest who chooses a tough way to deal with the death of her mother.
Gwen’s mother Althea was Columbia’s hairdresser, not well respected after setting aside her musical talent many years before for love of a transient Mexican, Gustavo Perez, who got her pregnant, then left town. His companion, Edgar Fuentes, however, stayed on, and Gwen, the product of her mother’s hapless love match, now 16, has had an affair with the older Edgar and finds herself pregnant—several months after her mother has died in a driving accident. Gwen works at a stable owned by the richest lady in town, Miz Hundy, and she now lives with Miz Hundy’s sister, the kindly and unmarried Mrs. Parker, who has also taken under her wing the recuperating “Leukemia Girl,” Lila Abernathy, in remission after chemotherapy in Portland and now trying to finish high-school in Columbia. Gwen and Lila dislike each other immensely: no-nonsense Gwen perceives Lila as a prettified social climber, while Lila is concerned only with avoiding germs and resurrecting her ballet career. The story is really the portrayal of an attempt at reconciliation—between these two young women of different social classes brought together through hardship, and between the girls and their town’s recognition of their rich individual talents. Second-novelist Koenig (Thumbelina, 1999) writes in Gwen’s hardy vernacular: the teenager is keenly aware of gossip about her mother and her, and is inured to it, yet she lacks the self-confidence to admit any emotional helpers, like the life-by-hard-knocks Miz Hundy; or the hunk at the hatchery, Dennis Bly, who fancies Gwen’s freewheeling ways; or even the dejected Edgar Fuentes, who truly loves her.
Gwen’s inferiority complex sets up a barrier to reader sympathy, in a tale at times delightfully intractable, though by end a hard nut to crack.