Rebhan’s debut coming-of-age novel offers a unique perspective on family secrets and public tragedies.
It’s 1969, and teenager Riley Pritchard believes her life in small-town Flatfield, Texas, is as dull as the hot, dry countryside. Everything changes when a tornado touches down, destroying her family’s home. Riley’s father dubs their new home Tranquility Base, after the recent Apollo 11 moon-landing site, but the Pritchards’ lives become increasingly chaotic. Riley takes up volunteering at the veterans’ hospital, and when her baby sister, Katie, goes missing and is later found dead, Riley blames herself. While volunteering, she meets Johnny, a badly burned Vietnam veteran, and their shared pain develops into romance, but when he disappears without saying goodbye, Riley is plunged back into depression. After her mother runs off with the town preacher, Riley tries to find out the truth behind her sister’s death. She takes comfort in artistic pursuits, ultimately building a life around therapeutic self-expression. The author packs the novel with tragedy while keeping the story centered on Riley’s personal experiences of pain, loss and hope, and detailing the ways the young girl distances herself from her flawed, unhappy parents and their callous actions. Riley’s ability to forgive without forgetting marks her as a strong, complex character. Overall, the author deftly portrays Riley as a person of indomitable spirit, determined to build a Tranquility Base of her own, no matter where life takes her.
A well-crafted novel that engagingly looks at what it takes to find happiness in a world that’s falling apart.