Rydr, as she calls herself, is trying to put a brave face on a journey that feels much like doom.
The 13-year-old, hungry and broke, is the daughter of an addicted mom “who used to have public embarrassments”—but now she’s dead. Her reluctant grandmother (also now dead), whose best quality was her excellent pancakes, was her next not-quite-a-caregiver. Now the girl, battered by life but always resiliently and often cleverly struggling forward, is on a long train trip from Palm Springs to Chicago, where she’ll be placed with an elderly great-uncle she doesn’t know but whose “monthly check will get bigger” when she arrives. During the journey she’s under the care of, then befriended and perhaps even saved by, Dorothea, an Amtrak escort, Neal, a gay snack bar worker, Carlos, a traveling poet, and an antipathetic Boy Scout called Tenderchunks who touches her heart. Along the way Rydr will savor her first kiss, run away from the train and her memories—but return—leave the burden of her mother’s ashes in an Iowa wood, and nearly destroy a restroom while trying to cope with her excruciating recollections. Her pluck and her perceptive narrative voice combine to make her brief yet deeply affecting connections with caring strangers plausible although occurring over the course of just a few days. Race and culture are implied in naming convention and speech patterns, with characters defaulting to white.
A harrowing, moving, immersive, and ultimately uplifting debut novel. (Fiction. 11-16)