After her older brother, Lucas, is wounded in action and rendered comatose, 17-year-old Gabriela Santiago decides to honor a promise to her brother by walking the Camino de Santiago alongside Seth Russo, the unlikeliest of companions.
Gabi, a half-white and half-Mexican Army brat, hates many things about life in the military and is eager to leave Germany to start college at the University of Texas, where she is to return to a civilian life and reunite with her high school friends and boyfriend. However, once Gabi learns of her brother’s critical condition and his request that she walk the pilgrimage, her plans get derailed, With only weeks till she graduates, she and Seth—Lucas’ best friend and fellow soldier, a young white man—hike an abbreviated three-week journey. Along the way, their mutual love for Lucas unites them even as their temperaments separate them. While Gabi walks with her brother in mind, she also hopes to repair her fractured relationship with her father. Seth also has his demons and is wrestling to right his wrongs—and his daily drinking serves as a Band-Aid from the horror he witnessed and experienced in Afghanistan. Gabi’s convincing teen voice guides readers through the complexity of emotions and inner struggle. Despite pacing issues and an unfortunate typo in one of the book's few snatches of Spanish (“Buenas dias” will induce winces), debut novelist Cowles uses the pilgrimage to spark moments of philosophic and theological reflection.
Though a bit oversimplified at times, the story will open a portal to families with injured soldiers and propel conversations about war, identity, philosophy, and hardship. (Fiction. 14-18)