Two teens—an unlucky boy scraping by, a starry-eyed girl with big plans—cross trajectories in Gurley’s (Greatfall, 2018, etc.) utterly sincere YA debut.
It’s senior year in Orilla del Cielo, a California coastal town. Zachary, a gangly, artistic, white teen with a bleak outlook on life, doesn’t see the point in applying for college. After all, he’s convinced he’ll end up on the same soul-crushing dead-end path as his older brother and deceased father. The novel’s other narratorial voice belongs to Vanessa, an affluent quarter-Japanese and (presumably) three-quarters–white teen who dreams of getting into Cornell to follow in the footsteps of her idol, astronomer Carl Sagan. Her animosity toward her father, who abandoned Vanessa and her mom, fuels her ambitions; her friendly rivalry with best friend Cece Vasquez (Latinx and queer) does the same. Momentous fate brings Vanessa and Zach together. Convinced of his artistic worth, she tries to help set him on a college-oriented track while he strains to spare her from his poverty-induced burdens. As the two get closer, conflicting forces pull them apart, derailing whatever plans—good or bad—they thought they had. Incisive, wholehearted dialogue and lovely prose fill the novel, an exploration of an adolescent relationship that’s equal parts sweet and unlikely. Blossoming romance eventually encounters tragedies big and small, spiraling into a surprisingly suspenseful ending.
Buoyed by strong, likable characters and superb writing, this coming-of-age tale cuts to the core. (Realistic fiction. 12-18)