Opening with a flash-forward teaser, this unpersuasive debut quickly fizzles.
The only home Luchi Ann, 13, has known is the women’s prison in northern Thailand where she was born to a jailed American mother who supervised her impressive education (history, philosophy, art, calculus and languages). After her mother dies, blonde Luchi Ann sets off alone, with the kindly warden’s blessing, to “search for answers” to the mystery of her mother’s incarceration. (Why she doesn’t just ask the warden is another mystery.) Carrying her mother’s ashes, money and a few phone numbers but little else, she accepts a ride to Bangkok with the warden’s nephew. Like the plot, Luchi Ann never achieves credibility. Puzzlingly, she neither confides in nor seeks help from sympathetic adults in Thailand. They, for their part, neither question her nor intervene to protect her. Luchi Ann’s sensibility and breathless present-tense narration, with pauses to rhapsodize about her future, belong more to an entitled girl of privilege than an orphan child adrift in an alien world. Reduced to generic, travel-brochure descriptions of countryside and city, vibrant Thailand feels drably insubstantial, the literary equivalent of an exotic background for a fashion-magazine spread. Equally generic are the Thai characters, enablers on Luchi Ann’s self-absorbed journey.
A culturally tone deaf exercise in narcissism. (Fiction. 10-14)