Accomplished and compelling debut novel examines the consequences of a teenage pregnancy.
When his adored wife Amy, a special-effects creator, is killed in a freak accident on a movie set, 32-year-old photographer Arthur realizes how little he knew about her life before they met. A memorabilia-filled shoebox on the floor of their closet sends him from Hollywood to Ruby Falls, N.Y., where Amy’s childhood best friend Mona lives with her daughter. The girls ran away together in the spring of 1993; Mona returned in August with infant Oneida and has never said who the father is. Now, Mona runs a boarding house and bakes wedding cakes, while tenth-grader Oneida is resigned to being a “freak,” too intellectual for her small-town peers—until she discovers that classmate Eugene’s badass delinquent reputation is actually a surrealist art project, based on the mantra of his father (a forger) “that your whole life is a creation…you can use [it] to totally mess with other people’s heads.” This revelation causes Oneida to fall head over heels for Eugene, just as he planned, while Mona grapples with the unsettling memories of Amy reawakened by Arthur’s appearance at the boarding house. It takes Racculia just a few vivid setup chapters to sweep us into the thoughts and feelings of her appealing principal characters: smart, prickly Oneida; sexy, funny Eugene, who’s more vulnerable than he seems; nurturing Mona, still in Amy’s shadow 15 years after their life-changing road trip; and grieving Arthur, who needs to understand that his wife’s past was darker than he realized. The truth about Oneida’s parentage will be clear to alert readers long before Mona reveals it, but plot is not the point here. The author brilliantly captures teenage angst and uncertainty as she conveys some very grown-up truths about the choices we make and the prices we—and others—pay for them.
Intelligent, warm-hearted and tough-minded—Racculia is a talent to watch.