Talia and Wen’s nomadic life with the Wanderers is all they’ve ever known.
Sixteen-year-old Tal and her younger brother travel in a caravan of RVs. Hustling and stealing are their means not only to make a living, but to avoid Tal’s looming marriage by paying off the bride price that the camp’s Boss accepted. In South Carolina, the two try to con a preppy “mark” who knows a thing or two about hustling himself. Tal and Spencer soon fall for each other. The unlikely romance at the core of the novel is charmingly realistic, but unfortunately, the context feels artificial. A healthy suspension of disbelief is needed to accept the Wanderers’ reliance on “the Spirit of the Falconer” to protect them by sending warnings through owls, some falling from the sky. The Wanderers, while not identified as ethnic Roma, are known to the people of the towns they pass through as gypsies, and their portrayal plays into the stereotype of gypsies as swindlers with no moral compass. Tal and Wen have no compunction about conning people to maintain their lifestyle. Despite her outrage at “living in a society that buys and sells girls,” Tal still craves “the freedom, the fearlessness, the invincibility” of Wanderer life. The strength of this debut novel is in the tantalizing development of character and setting as the story unfolds and Tal seeks her path in life.
Uneven yet enjoyable. (Fiction. 13-17)