A family crosses the continent to find themselves, which they do on an apple farm in Massachusetts, in one of those too carefully crafted first novels in which literary ambition exacts a toll greater than a minor work can afford. This would-be epic of self-discovery is told in alternate chapters by the three travellers from California--Jane Jones, daughter Rebecca, and husband Oliver, a well-known whale-expert--with supplementary voices provided by Sam, the apple farmer, and Joley, Jane's brother and Sam's assistant. Rebecca tells her version of the journey backwards--a journey that begins in their San Diego home when Oliver announces that he'll have to miss Rebecca's upcoming 15th birthday, and Jane, no longer able to contain her pent-up frustrations and anger, hits him. Fearing that she's becoming like her father, Jane, joined by Rebecca, flees the house and heads across the country to Joley, who adores Jane, his childhood protector against their abusive father. The trip, which includes a visit to the site of the air crash in which toddler Rebecca was one of five survivors, is planned by Joley to make Jane finally use the ""untapped strength"" she has ignored. Oliver goes after them, but as he travels he too realizes that this journey has a deeper purpose. On the farm both Rebecca and Jane fall in love, but a tragic accident, Joley's advice to leave because ""sometimes the ideal way isn't the best,"" and Oliver's confession of love and repentance--all will convince Jane to go back home. ""It is the first time I can remember,"" she says, ""having my eyes wide open while I look at my future."" And about time. Picoult tries to do more with the old clichÃ‰ of wife and family coming to terms with the past, but it isn't enough. The clichÃ‰ lives, while the characters and the story struggle--and fail--to survive the author's pretensions.