Ever since the accident that killed her mother and two sisters five years ago, Coyote Sunrise, now 12, and her father, Rodeo, have lived on the road in a converted yellow school bus and followed their whims.
The only place they will not go is back to their hometown…until Coyote’s grandma tells her the park where she, her mother, and her sisters buried a memory box is slated for destruction in just a few days. Now she must figure out how to steer her father back. In true road-trip–novel fashion, Coyote manages with the help of strangers: Lester, a jilted musician; Salvador and his mother, fleeing domestic abuse; and teenage Val, kicked out because she’s gay. Gemeinhart crafts an enormously appealing protagonist in Coyote, who has mostly adapted to her unusual life but whose yearning for stability pokes out in small ways. Her narrative voice is rich and memorable, her withering distaste for Wild Watermelon slushes just one of many personality-defining quirks. But if Coyote is a living, breathing protagonist, the secondary cast is less so. That Coyote and her father are white makes Coyote’s enlistment of Lester, an endlessly amiable black man, as a second driver an uncomfortable choice—a literal plot device, in fact. Latinx Salvador is more fully drawn, perhaps because he and Coyote interact as peers, but his mother is not. Like Lester, she and Val (who is white) fade into the background till needed.
A good-hearted road trip stalls on thin secondary characterizations. (Fiction. 8-12)