Aster wakes on a deserted beach, alone and confused, just days after she and her sister, Poppy, move to New Zealand to live with their mysterious aunt.
Aster, 13, and Poppy, 11, are officially orphans. Their dad died in a car accident when Poppy was a baby, and their mom recently lost her battle with cancer. Having no other relatives, the girls travel to New Zealand to live with their aunt, Iona, whom they haven’t seen in years because she works all over the world as a hotshot research oncologist. Iona moves them to Wildhaven, a remote ecovillage where she is doing fieldwork. Wildhaven is a research site filled with international students, secrets, and doctors at odds with one another. Following a catastrophic boat trip, Aster wakes up alone on a beach, bewildered. She works to uncover the mysteries of Wildhaven and Aunt Iona and to find Poppy. The cast is a range of races and skin colors—including Aster and Poppy, who are white, Korean, and black—but an absence of cultural markers suppresses a feeling of robust diversity. Character development is weak, so while readers will root for Aster to find Poppy, they won’t have a sense of who she really is. However, the depiction of her anxiety and panic attacks both feels authentic and is well written. While the twists are interesting, the information reveal is slow in coming, so they pack less punch than they might.
An underwater adventure bogged down by uneven pacing. (Thriller. 10-13)