A white boy afraid to leave his family meets a Romani girl who wants a brief romantic encounter in the Nevada desert.
Lala’s family sells used cars in Portland, Ore., but is spending a week in the blistering heat of Nevada in order to fleece the gazhè who come to Burning Man; surely the hippies will pay generously to have their fortunes told. Ben lives in a company town that’s dying along with its shuttering gypsum mine. In alternating chapters, Lala and Ben tell of their coming-of-age crises: Lala fears the stifling sameness of her coming arranged marriage, while Ben is ashamed of the track scholarship that will provide his escape to college while his family and neighbors leave their soon-to-be ghost town for unemployment. Lala, for Ben, is his brief summer dalliance, the manic pixie dream girl who distracts him from his fears. Ben, for Lala, is the trigger she uses to take control of and redirect her life. Lala’s a powerful and independent young woman, though she also exhibits too many romantic gypsy tropes, with her “mess of dark curls...wild” and cascading over an hourglass figure, speaking in contraction-free sentences that entice Ben with their foreignness.
Lyrical and inspirational, though Lala’s inexplicably outsider view of her own culture, complete with sneers at harmless cultural practices, is a deeply jarring note. (Fiction. 14-17)