Teenager Cliff Kelly learns to balance his family’s values with a newfound independence in Fenter’s sequel to 2010’s The Ruin.
The novel begins in 1955, as Cliff returns home after spending a year living alone in a cliff dwelling near the rural Colorado community in which he grew up. After this period of self-reflection, Cliff resumes life armed with stronger character and confidence. These values are immediately tested when he deepens his relationship with Angelina, whose Catholic upbringing and Latino heritage clash with the Anglo-Christian Kelly family. Cliff befriends his former nemesis Hector and their relationship brings closure to events preceding his sojourn in the wilderness. Cliff’s family is a minority in the predominantly Latino area, and his outsider status lessens as Hector and Angelina educate Cliff on their culture’s customs and language. Cliff returns their favors by helping Hector with his schoolwork and showing Angelina the survival skills he cultivated during his solitude. Cliff introduces Angelina to beekeeping and the two work on capturing a swarm. During the process, Larry, a mentally unsound young man, threatens Cliff and Angelina, and the danger they encounter ultimately intensifies their bond. Cliff is a great role model for the book’s young adult audience, though parts involving Larry may not be appropriate for all readers. Teenagers will relate to Cliff’s struggles as he moves into adulthood and admire the mature choices he makes when confronts challenges. The book can also benefit parents raising kids coming of age in adverse societies. Yet the book’s pith—the importance of forgiveness, of forging common ground no matter how extreme the difference—become buried in longueurs describing the Colorado land, farming methods and bee-keeping procedures. The veracity of these expositions is undisputed, but they draw readers away from the nexus of messages Fenter imparts. The plot’s climactic moments slow from prolix dialogue; the cast of diverse characters all speak in the same formal, long-winded style. This implausible phrasing enervates the compelling, emotional moments between Cliff and Angelina—nevertheless, their relationship is inspiring.
Fenter provides worthy social commentary tucked inside this tender tale, but a languid delivery keeps the message from fully resonating.