A teen girl finds solace in The Stranger, the New Mexico desert, and a blossoming romance as she struggles to grieve the death of her emotionally abusive mother.
Dani Falls' provocative and cruel single mother, Ruby, is literally mauled to death by a bear in their Florida backyard. After the newsmaking violent death, a social worker informs the white 17-year-old that she's to live with a maternal aunt she's never met in a small New Mexico border town. Accompanied by only a copy of Albert Camus' The Stranger and an obsessive fear that the euthanized bear is going to return for her too, Dani resides in virtual silence, taking long, dangerous walks in the desert sun. Then she stumbles upon Paulo, the movie-loving Mexican-American gas station cashier who helps her, looks out for her, and introduces her to his wise and nurturing grandmother. She starts school. She speaks to her aunt, who shares the tragic secrets of Ruby's past. Although Dani's connection to Meursault, Camus' protagonist, is a major theme, readers don't need to know anything about the French classic to follow Dani's journey. The author's dreamlike language is at once beautiful and brutal, capturing the lows and highs of Dani's journey to figure out how to move forward knowing she both loved and hated her mother.
This lyrical coming-of-age story effectively explores the complicated nature of love and grief. (author's note) (Fiction. 14-18)