A young teen ensnared in a cult becomes obsessed with finding her exiled mother.
Peaches is a small town near Fresno, in California’s Central Valley. Once the raisin capital of the world, now Peaches is drought-ridden, with empty canals and residents in perpetual thirst. Large numbers of townspeople have turned to Pastor Vern, a Christ-like figure who promises that, if his congregants follow him and complete their “assignments,” the rains will fall on Peaches again. (In the meantime, the churchgoers get baptized in cola.) Fourteen-year-old Lacey May, who lives with her alcoholic mother, doesn’t know what her mother’s assignment is; she only knows that she disappears somewhere unknown during the day and can’t seem to stay out of trouble with Pastor Vern. When Lacey’s mother is banished from the congregation and leaves town, Lacey must go live with her eccentric grandmother Cherry, an exuberant follower of the Gifts of the Spirit church. After Lacey is finally given a horrific assignment of her own, she is determined to find out where her mother has gone and what she knew about Pastor Vern’s unsavory plans for the town of Peaches. Bieker has written a debut that joins Emma Cline’s The Girls and R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries in exploring the uneasy intersection of repressive religious belief and burgeoning sexuality, but Bieker’s exploration of the way that poverty and environmental ravishment also add to the subjugation of the female body adds more rich layers to this narrative. It’s a lot to juggle, but Lacey May is such a strong narrator, at once deeply insightful and painfully naïve, that readers will eagerly want to follow all the threads to the breathless conclusion.
A dark, deft first novel about the trauma and resilience of both people and the land they inhabit.