Two teens on opposite coasts who’ve bonded closely in an anonymous online therapy group for trauma victims embark with companions on cross-country road trips to meet in Austin, Texas.
In Maryland, when Frances discovers her mother has died after spending years in a nearby mental hospital, the white teen’s custodial grandparents admit they’d withheld the truth, including letters to Frances from her mother insisting Frances’ father is a movie star. In Los Angeles, biracial Indian-American Louis feels responsible for the childhood accident that cost his twin sister, Willa, her legs. Willa’s trauma’s mainly physical; Louis’ manifests in insomnia and panic attacks. He’s also a tennis wunderkind and has been offered free admission to the University of Texas. Soon Frances is driving to Austin, home to her purported father, with her cousin Arrow, adopted from Vietnam, in tow. Louis and Willa drive east to tour the university and meet Frances. For years, random items in Frances’ and Louis’ possession have inexplicably vanished, including the letters from Frances’ mom and Louis’ tennis racket. Traveling, each finds missing items the other had lost. The quirky, occasionally clunky plot mostly hums along, guided by the author’s light narrative hand. Willa and Louis, whose disabilities are never trivialized, are especially well-drawn, lending gravitas where needed, but the superfluous fantastical elements fail to earn suspension of disbelief.
The plot’s flawed, but it’s executed by characters readers can believe in and care about. (Magical realism. 13-16)