SONORA by Hannah Lillith Assadi


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A coming-of-age story set largely in the surreal desert-world of Phoenix.

In this atmospheric debut, protagonist Ahlam’s identity crisis is clear from the start—she’s the daughter of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian refugee; a high school misfit; a dreamer of strangely prophetic fever dreams. So when she meets Laura, a musician and rebel who seems to exist outside their school’s social structure, it isn’t surprising that the two find solace in each other. Ahlam and Laura fall into a close friendship, confiding in one another about their broken home lives; discovering drugs and sex; and meeting the enigmatic Dylan, an older artist from New York City. Meanwhile, strange things are happening in the desert: mysterious blue lights occasionally appear across the nighttime sky, spotted by some, including Ahlam’s father, and an unexplained series of deaths and suicides spreads through the high school. Fearing they might be next and haunted by the desert’s (and their own) secrets, Ahlam and Laura follow Dylan to New York to pursue their dreams—Ahlam to become a dancer, Laura to make music—but, drunk on the city’s intensity and Dylan’s drug-fueled lifestyle, their lives quickly begin to spin out of control. Though its New York portions can sometimes seem unfocused, the novel provides a lyrical meditation on the confusion and awe of growing up that is made beautifully strange by the desert’s haunting presence. Ahlam’s feelings of isolation and inability to fit in—particularly when she’s with the magnetic, confident, but flawed Laura—are also rendered in a way that’s both typical and painfully, relatably fresh. But Assadi shines most in developing the intense, almost destructive bond between the two girls that forms the emotional nucleus of the book. Muses Ahlam, “I…felt her in the way that I moved, how over the years I came to light my cigarettes just like her, between ring and middle fingers, how I laughed or how my cash was always stuffed and disorganized in my wallet, just like hers…I had brought her into my skin. I dreamed sometimes that in the mirror was her face reflected back at me. Still, I don’t know where she ended and I began.”

Lyrical, raw, and moving.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61695-792-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2017


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