After her older brother Carlito kills his girlfriend Isabela's baby girl because he thinks Isabela is cheating on him, 23-year-old Reina feels trapped trying to comfort him on death row—until his death frees her to start over in Crescent Key, a place where nobody knows her family history.
At first, Carlito claimed he didn't throw Isabela’s baby into the river on purpose; it was, he said, an accident. Never mind that it's the same thing Carlito’s father, Hector, did to 3-year-old Carlito when he thought his own wife had cheated on him. Back then, Carlito survived due to the lifesaving efforts of nearby fishermen. But now, alone in solitary confinement, Carlito “doesn’t try to act remorseful or even say he’s innocent anymore,” says Reina. Somehow Engel (It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, 2013, etc.) is able to find a lightness in a disturbing story to carry the reader through the novel. But this effervescent, breezy voice does jar, at times, with the dark subject matter. Still, Engel has crafted a detailed, rich world of vivid atmosphere and imagery: “the hum of the ceiling fan blades hit me like a torrent of screams,” Reina thinks, after her brother is found dead, a suicide hanging from the electrical cord of his fan. Finally free of her weekly visits to the prison, Reina moves to Crescent Key and finds companionship with Cuban immigrant Nesto Cadena and with the local dolphins—until she realizes that the only way she will truly be free is to reckon not just with Carlito’s death, but with the rest of her family’s ghosts as well. Here is the casual violence of men—and the tired acceptance of it that women face. But through it all rises Reina’s voice—her belief in optimism, in family, in the importance of life.
A dark comedy with unexpected heart.