A Mexican-American girl and a black boy begin an ill-fated love in the months leading up to a catastrophic 1937 school explosion in East Texas.
The powerful story opens with the legendary school explosion in New London and then rewinds to September 1936. Naomi has begrudgingly left behind her abuelitos in San Antonio for a new life with her younger half siblings, twins, and their long-absent white father, Henry. Now a born-again Christian, Henry struggles to atone for his sins. The siblings struggle to fit into the segregated oil town, where store signs boast "No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs." The precocious twins read better than half the senior class, and dark-skinned Naomi is guilty of not only being Mexican, but also of being "prettier than any girl in school." Their one friend is Wash, a brilliant African-American senior from the black part of town. Pérez deftly weaves multiple perspectives—including Henry and "the Gang," the collective voice of the racist students—into her unflinchingly intense narrative, but the story ultimately belongs to Naomi and Wash. Their beautifully detailed love story blossoms in the relative seclusion of the woods, where even stepfathers can't keep them apart. But as heartbreaking events unfold, the star-crossed lovers desperately hope that any light can penetrate the black smoke cloud of darkness spreading around them.
A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 14 & up)