In this brief novella, two girls, a lonely 11-year-old and a troubled 14-year-old, share adventures in rural New Mexico.
The story begins in 1973 when MatiLou awakes to find that her best friend, PerryAnn, has disappeared from the hilltop where the two had been stranded overnight. In fewer than 75 pages, Passel (Create Your Space, 2013, etc.) accounts for their memorable summer that just passed. PerryAnn was dropped off at her grandmother’s house to be retrieved in three weeks; soon afterward, her parents, Perry and Ann, were killed in a car accident en route to a “Natives for Nature” rally. Because PerryAnn’s father was Native American and her mother was white, their in-laws feuded over the marriage; soon, they were doing the same over the custody of PerryAnn, although she wished to stay with her father’s mother, Grandma Waters. Readers learn that MatiLou and her parents moved to New Mexico five years ago when her father was hired to teach geology at the university. She was bullied and isolated in school, in part because she got “the highest score on the IQ test.” Her interests were in science and nature, while PerryAnn was mainly concerned with attracting boys. Despite their differences, the two were constant companions, but MatiLou didn’t comprehend how traumatized PerryAnn was by the death of her parents. She hatched a plan to escape but didn’t fill MatiLou in on all the details. Thus MatiLou began her trip to the hilltop with PerryAnn, but she awoke to find her gone. The plot unfolds very rapidly with much expositional dialogue and little opportunity for readers to understand each character. One episode of terrible bullying, though, is well drawn and horrifying; Matilou thinks that she’s been accepted when she’s invited to a sleepover party with the popular girls, but it turns out that she was included for the purposes of singular, believable torture: “When I tried to get out of my bag, one of the three girls sitting on the side took a pillow and put it over my head.” A subplot involving mineral rights and drilling on Grandma Waters’ land seems insignificant and is dispatched in a few paragraphs. Every character is treated to a similarly pat resolution in the final pages.
Constrained by its short length, this book only skates the surface of what could have been an intriguing character study.