A neurotypical teen dreams of Paris and rekindling her bond with her autistic brother in Christiansen’s debut.
White 18-year-old Keira has always fantasized about seeing Paris. Things at home aren’t exactly perfect—although she loves her stepfather of six years, her relationship with her mother is rocky, and she has been pushing away from her autistic 16-year-old brother, Levi. When Levi attempts suicide and is hospitalized, Keira is shocked and devastated to discover she knows so little about her brother. She hatches a plan that, to her surprise, is received well by almost everyone: she and Levi can explore Paris together, thanks to her savings and self-taught French. Their journey is a mix of implausible highs for Keira (steaming-fresh pastries daily made specially for them at a local patisserie, sneaking backstage to see an actor after an English-language production of Les Mis, and a fling with a British musician) and predictable lows for both siblings (Levi stops taking his medication and goes missing in an overblown finale). Extensive descriptions of locations and food will drag for all but those with the same level of Parisian passion as the protagonist. Keira’s first-person narration feels repetitive and unpolished, and her speculations about Levi’s personality and experience living with disability ring false, as she makes little effort to actually get to know him. Keira has little interest in accommodating her brother’s needs, and Levi’s disabilities are problematically used as plot devices that contribute solely to Keira’s character growth.
A troubling, self-indulgent “acceptance” narrative that lacks authenticity and nuance. (Fiction. 14-17)