Choices and their unpredictable aftermaths form the backbone of Kephart’s (This Is the Story of You, 2016, etc.) latest.
White, 13-year-old Lizzie’s choice to spend the summer in the Adirondacks with Uncle Davy while her mother undergoes cancer treatment is simple. There, she can also visit her “all-year-round friend” Matias, a Salvadoran boy with proportionate dwarfism who’s a talented watercolor painter. But when Matias is kidnapped by escapees from a nearby prison, Lizzie makes a harder choice: to rescue him, braving 6 million acres of wilderness alone. Lizzie’s adventure unravels in an epic victim-impact statement, which she addresses to a faceless visitor: Caroline, the kidnappers’ accomplice. Angry, frantic, insightful, and vividly lyrical, Lizzie’s voice densely weaves together the disorienting landscape; memories of her absent, narcissistic father; and Matias’ stories of the beauty and danger of the country he fled. Framed in Lizzie’s elegies to his “myths” and “light,” Matias himself seems more akin to a legendary figure than a person, which lessens the emotional impact of his disappearance despite Lizzie’s distress. As Caroline’s part in several characters’ fates emerges, occasional sympathy for Caroline conflicts with the irreversible consequences of her choices. Readers, like Lizzie, will ponder the possibility of forgiveness; there are no easy answers, but the book ends on a hopeful note. Sulit’s illustrations of Matias’ postcards appear in full color throughout.
Thought-provoking and intense—recommended for patient readers. (Fiction. 11-14)