Alif Scholl and five of her friends leave Melbourne for the deserts of Dubai, where her archaeologist dad is leading an excavation.
Recent high school graduate Alif looks forward to getting closer to her crush, Tommy Ortiz, her dad’s research assistant. But things at the site seem to be off. A mysterious, sunburned Frenchman appears out of nowhere, mumbling about a powerful force from Mesopotamian folklore called Dup Shimati. Rumors of a fantastical desert world suddenly seem possible. Following a sandstorm, Alif is stranded with Tommy and her friends. They come upon a lush oasis teeming with fruit—pears, apples, and strawberries—that shouldn’t grow there. The famished, dehydrated group consumes the fruit and fresh spring water. That night, disturbing dreams haunt Alif, making her sleepwalk and attempt to poison her friends. The others begin acting strangely too. The line between dream and reality begins to blur, especially after they find a tablet with sinister powers. The book explores the very real tensions teenagers face in grappling with their desires and learning to understand the importance of trust. While the narrative is engaging overall, with a spirited and ethnically diverse cast (Alif has a Jordanian British mother and German American father), the characters feel underdeveloped and the attempt to play with multiple realities falls short, leaving readers confused by sweeping transitions and sudden, jarring events. Some descriptions border on Orientalism.
Overly ambitious. (Science fiction. 12-18)