For her eighth birthday, in 1978, Ruby Wellman asked to visit the pier in Santa Monica, California. After winning prizes and riding the Ferris wheel, the family began driving home only to suffer a horrific car accident. Ruby was badly burned, and her 5-year-old brother, Abe, was killed. Today, the Wellmans barely speak to each other and pretend that Abe never existed. Ruby, now a 40-something painter, blames herself; she lives in the small town of Kingdom Come, enjoying the company of her dog, Tonto, and a few close friends. Content as a loner, Ruby is devastated to learn that a family is about to move in just around the corner into a home once owned by someone she called the Old Man. Yet when Hannah and Mischa McCord arrive—along with their 6-year-old son, Finn—Ruby warms to them. Finn is an introverted child who bonds quickly with Ruby. Soon, however, the boy finds an imaginary friend, the Wizard—who reminds everyone of Hannah’s grandfather, the Old Man. Is it coincidence at play, or does familial energy linger on the property? As Ruby and Finn grow closer, secrets kept by the McCords threaten to unravel their newly formed relationship. In her debut, Strick successfully writes with the confidence of a seasoned author, building an ambient world around Ruby’s love for the outdoors and her wariness of people. Her prose is often striking: “I fall asleep every night to the hoot of the owl in the oak near my window, to the night breezes, the silence of the stars.” Elsewhere, she wonderfully conveys the intensity of the artist at work: “I’m addicted to the zone I enter, when I click off the workings of my nattering mind.” As Ruby and Finn’s bond strengthens (represented through nightmares and surreal paintings), the narrative’s emotional layers grow increasingly complex; characters like Ruby’s mother and best friend, Charlie, achieve beautiful realization. Whether Strick’s final reveal is garish or truly shocking will be up to the reader—but it is executed masterfully.
A clear new voice offering a startling, memorable debut.