Fourteen-year-old Tomás’ life changes forever while on a beach vacation with his family in award-winning Spanish writer Barba's (Rain Over Madrid, 2014, etc.) newly translated novel.
This is a coming-of-age story, of sorts; Tomás finds himself estranged from his own rapidly changing body and from his family. Riddled with teen angst, he spends a great deal of time at the beginning of the novel feeling disillusioned with his parents, who, from his perspective, are “no longer bathed in the benevolent glow of childhood, no longer superior beings; they, too, had been strangely degraded somehow.” Tomás’ inner turmoil is familiar, certainly, but none of it makes him especially sympathetic—in fact, his perpetual bad attitude makes us long for him to just grow up already. Fortunately, our frustration is eventually offset by the relationship Tomás forms with four local boys from the poor part of town, or “forbidden territory.” The boys introduce Tomás to a world of casual sex that he finds simultaneously enticing and bizarrely repulsive. His struggle to balance his desire and revulsion—especially where one of the local girls is concerned—gives the novel a much-needed menacing edge that propels the story forward. Finally, on the night after Tomás’ aunt’s funeral, his new friends draw him into a whirl of drinking, drugs, and an act of unspeakable violence. The second part of the novel deals with the emotional aftermath of that night, as Tomás further isolates himself, keeping the events a secret, while his family grieves for his aunt. It's shorter than the first part and comparatively lighter. Tomás ultimately seeks redemption and finds it perhaps a little too quickly. We are left with the sense that, yes, bad things happen, but in the end, all is forgiven and life goes on.
This is a coming-of-age novel that can be captivating and possesses many strengths but an equal—perhaps greater—number of weaknesses.