A 15-year-old girl runs away from an abusive home to find refuge and new worlds among the varied populations of Los Angeles.
The first pages of this hybrid novel/story collection by Latiolais (Widow, 2011) tell us immediately where we are: in the realm of poetic, gestural, and not always informative writing. The first paragraph relates that the unnamed narrator was home-schooled and “learning to add had been learning to collect any denomination of coin or bill until she'd had enough to buy this one bus ticket”—which suggests a fairly hardscrabble life and not very good home schooling. But on the next page, in a tallying of the resources she has to survive, the narrator thinks of the “addition and subtraction, fractions and the rudimentary algebra she had loved.” So home schooling had been more rigorous than was first suggested, and her math skills go beyond figuring out the price of a bus ticket. Small discrepancies like these keep us from feeling we really understand the girl's background, though other details are well-chosen, such as her love of sugar and her plump figure. There is something appealing about this courageous young girl who escapes a brutal father, but her path is unrealistically smooth, and we don't get to see her coping with adversity. That she is a naif with old-fashioned diction is believable, since she was raised by conservative Christians, but the number of people she meets who take an interest in her is not. From the first man she gets a ride from to a kindly gallery owner to an even kindlier old man, the girl is taken care of in a way that doesn't seem believable for teen runaways today. Undercutting the persuasiveness of this narrative still further are the stories that punctuate it—a strange choice for a book, making it neither novel nor story collection—because the characters in the stories seem more alive than the shadowy “she.” By the end, Latiolais has sketched a broad tapestry of LA characters, which was presumably the point of the book, but it asks a lot of the reader to stay with the shifts in narrators and even genres in this slim volume.
This book is weakened by lack of a driving narrative and details that would bring the main character into clearer focus.