Grief, teenage drama, alien bird-men, and a reality-warping drug combine in the quirky cocktail of Wilkinson’s debut coming-of-age novel.
Gates McFarland has a lot on her plate. She’s in a new school, for starters, where her father works as the new band director. If that weren’t bad enough, Gates is dealing with the surreal, creepy experience of hearing her recently deceased mother’s voice in her head. Cammie, queen of the social scene, and her henchwoman, Lena, don’t make things any easier, but Gates is determined to win them over, as long as Penny, an incredibly weird, pony-obsessed loner, doesn’t socially contaminate her with overly dorky overtures of friendship. On the plus side, there’s John Ed, an unspeakably hunky drum major and recovering Amanita addict. Amanita, as portrayed here, is a substance that’s new enough to still be legal, provides a surreal trip, and promises a shortcut to artistic stardom. But as Gates discovers to her horror, it can also transport a person across light years to another planet ruled by bird-men (and one of her new classmates). Even worse, the more Gates learns, the more it looks like her mother’s death is connected to it all. The way that she discovers how the tangle of threads interconnects is a high point of the book. Unfortunately, the sheer mass of different subplots may lead to confusion and frustration, as they rarely mesh successfully and none feel fully developed. This effect spills over onto the characters, many of whom often seem more like caricatures; however, the fact that the story is told firmly from Gates’ point of view moderates this to an extent. Each individual plot thread has something to recommend it. However, none of them get as complex a treatment as they deserve.
A sometimes-endearing tale that almost succeeds but attempts too much.