Five years after the death of her daughter, Julia comes to Malibu to house-sit and is drawn to the overseer of the orchard property, an illegal immigrant who has his own tragic past.
When Julia’s aunt and uncle ask her to stay in their Malibu home while they travel to Ireland for a research project, she welcomes the opportunity. Tucked into the Santa Monica Mountains with its lemon grove and views of the sea, the Malibu property has been a sanctuary for Julia her whole life, so different from her starchy, academic East Coast upbringing. Now it serves as a different kind of refuge—an escape from the memories of her daughter that are so entwined with the New England home she can’t bear to move out of yet can’t seem to move forward in either. Hiking the area woods and through the property, Julia runs into the handsome overseer, Roberto, and finds herself drawn to him in a way she doesn’t understand, until she realizes he has lost a daughter, too, during their arduous and dangerous trek from Mexico into the U.S. As the story unfolds, the arresting tale of Roberto’s loss wakes Julia up from the apathy she’s experienced since Jenny’s death, and, with her background as an anthropologist, she’ll delve into the moving plight of immigrants from Latin America as a whole and Roberto’s heart-wrenching experience in particular, while putting together the pieces of a puzzling mystery that may ultimately tear her from the first person to touch her heart since the day she lost her daughter. Rice here takes her signature themes of family and loss into the difficult and enigmatic landscape of illegal immigration to powerful effect (though readers may question the likelihood of the romantic elements of the storyline). An engaging and texturizing Southern California backdrop also subtly spotlights the struggle of land development and the environment as well as the fairy-tale atmosphere of Hollywood, and the book seamlessly includes details and plot points that both ground and enrich the story through its setting.
Lovely and compelling, with quiet yet brave social commentary that enhances the book’s impact.