Before dying from a congenital heart condition, Jesse liquidated his college fund to send his best friend, three cousins, and girlfriend to Europe; it’s up to them to figure out why.
They agree they’re meant to search for Jesse’s mother, who early abandoned him and his art-historian father, who’s decorated their apartment with reproductions of madonnas (the mother of Christ standing in for Jesse’s missing human parent). Jesse’s cousins—Cal and her older brother, Trevor, and their fussy cousin, Ben—spent childhood holidays with Jesse. Easygoing Trevor is happy to escape his debt-accumulating, social networking venture. Cal’s conflicted; Jesse entrusted her with his notebook, though she hadn’t seen him for years. Jesse sent Ben maps for the trip, put his friend Matt in charge of finances, and extracted a promise from his beautiful girlfriend, Lillian, that she’s not sure she can fulfill. Smart, attractive, and affluent (Lillian’s black, the rest are white), the five debate, quarrel, and ponder as they follow clues from Germany to Italy. Narrative potholes—six shifting points of view (Jesse’s comes via his notebook) and flashback-heavy reflection—slow the pace. Character motivations are unpersuasive. Jesse is too distant and not different enough from the other special, Salinger-esque wunderkinder to play the central role he’s assigned.
The narrative architecture collapses under its weak high concept, but sharp observation, sly humor, and moments of brilliance mitigate defects; if readers are left with crumbs, at least they’re delicious. (Fiction. 12 & up)