In this YA debut, a high schooler befriends the class loner and a World War II veteran.
Edwin Green is a junior at J.P. Hornby High School in Hornby, Alabama. His ex-girlfriend Sadie Evans became a celebrity after improbable events, revealed later in the novel, that happened on April 13, 2014, which Edwin calls “Black Saturday.” In the year since then, he’s been making YouTube videos in the hope of becoming famous himself and winning her back. Then, one day in history class, Edwin’s sad life is graced by Parker Haddaway, a gruff girl whom the teacher makes his partner in a class project. They must ask someone who lived through World War II a series of questions—and luckily, Parker knows just the man to interview: 90-year-old Garland Lenox, who lives at the Morningview Arbor rest home. They ask the cantankerous Air Force veteran about the first time he heard the name Adolf Hitler, and he says, “Doesn’t ring a bell.” He’s teasing them, of course, but the next time the teens visit, Garland has a serious proposal: He offers Edwin $25,000 to help him secretly go to France and reunite with his long-lost love, Madeleine Moreau. The notion is preposterous—but Edwin thinks that if they can complete the mission, he’ll finally become world-famous. Gibbs adds an unconventional sweetness, reminiscent of Jerry Spinelli’s 2000 novel Stargirl, to a tale of a trip to Saint-Lô, which the Allies bombed during WWII. Along the way, the author crafts lines that effectively illuminate both his snarky characters and modern society. Edwin, for example, narrates, “for at least half the famous people out there fame just fell on their heads like bird shit.” Garland, amid irreverent one-liners, provides a wealth of firsthand experience about the Second World War and midcentury America (“I joined the Air Force to get out of the damn woods and see the world”). Parker loves 1990s rap music, and Gibbs sprinkles lyrics throughout the story like confetti. As her fate intertwines with Garland’s and Edwin’s, the meaning of the book’s title comes into flower. In the end, Gibbs avoids easy, saccharine plot turns in favor of ones that strengthen his characters.
A smashing debut that’s both intimate and epic.