In LaFrey’s somber debut novel, a young girl, her baby brother, and her “walking disaster” of a mother search for a new place to call home.
Young Rita only sees her mom, Coral, on Christmases and birthdays. She spends the rest of the year with her grandparents, who took her in after Coral—who wasted her teen years skipping school, partying, and serving a stint in juvenile detention—abandoned her newborn daughter and first husband. Rita’s grandmother proves to be an affectionate, stabilizing guardian, but her grandfather, scarred by a car accident, keeps the family on edge with his mood swings and physically abusive behavior. When Grandma dies, Coral returns to care for her daughter; she also has a new baby boy, Toby. After they’re evicted from their apartment, they wander from one makeshift home to another, including the basement of a distant great-aunt, a dilapidated former motel, and a low-income housing complex whose shady neighbors tempt Coral to return to her pot-smoking, promiscuous ways. That leaves the family “stuck in an old car with a half tank of gas, twenty bucks…and no place to go,” so they head west to Nevada to stay with Bart, a pen-pal whom Coral hopes will be her boyfriend. As told from Rita’s perspective, the book maintains an eerily detached tone that’s most effective when detailing the family’s cycle of abuse: “Right then, I was too happy to be very cautious around my mom, even though she had just punched me in the face several days earlier, over something she imagined I had done.” Other times, the prose takes too much time to say not quite enough. Too many adverb-laden sentences (“Abruptly, I sighed deeply before grudgingly making my way over to the fence”) slow down the narrative’s momentum and distract from its emotional center. The story ends rather suddenly, but LaFrey plans to continue the saga of Rita, Coral, and Toby in the next volume of her Fateful Consequences series.
An often moving account of abuse and second chances, although its stiff prose sometimes gets in the way.