A new-millennium update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View.
When college–freshman-to-be Olivia Somerset is suddenly rendered catatonic on the day she’s supposed to head for Cornell, her older sister Miranda and others try to revive her. Olivia ends up postponing school and struggles unsuccessfully for months to find her more-adult self and confront her father’s death. Finally, Miranda suggests a therapeutic trip to Barcelona, where they meet a motley cast of characters at their hostel. These notably include a clergyman and his son, Greg, who give up their private room in exchange for Olivia and Miranda’s dormitory-style space. Greg and Olivia soon share a few romantic moments, much to Miranda’s over-protective chagrin. Meanwhile, Miranda has her own experiences of the heart. Debut novelist Sternberg weaves in references to e.e. cummings’ love poem “Orientale,” the source for the admirable title, to underscore Olivia’s entry into a new life stage. Readers who enjoy tales of sisters, travel and romance will appreciate Sternberg’s exuberant, modern and sometimes humorous tone. Unfortunately, the story bogs down at times with too much narration, too little character development, an ambiguous viewpoint and overwrought metaphors (“Olivia’s eyes drifted open like globes of a rising sun”).
An ambitious effort to whip up a new take on an old story, this needs more flour, fresher soda and far less frosting. (Fiction. 14 & up)