Loss, love, and coming of age meet in a small, hormone-charged (fictional) Texas town.
After a debut collection of short stories for adults (Along These Highways, 2012), Perez offers a teen novel that begins in the summer of 1998, when John Mejia and John Robison, two all-star athletes from Greenton, die in a fatal car accident on the way to Austin, where they were supposed to start what would certainly have been the next chapter of their legendary lives at the University of Texas. While the whole town mourns the Johns’ deaths, Concepcion “Chon” Gonzalez, a character who might remind readers of a Texan Oscar Wao, thinks of only Araceli Monsevais, “Goddess of Greenton and queen of Chon’s dreams” and Mejia’s abandoned girlfriend. Despite occasional pacing lulls and choppy transitions, Perez successfully zooms out to share the goings-on, mostly relevant, in a town that’s grooming new athletes and amid families that are coping with grief for lost sons before narrowing his focus again to Chon’s deliberate, at times nonexistent advances toward Araceli. The balance between Tex-Mex dialogue and omniscient narration is handled with ease, and the sex-fueled moments—from blow-job scenes to relationships with minors—only add to the sensation of feeling stuck and limited in Greenton. There’s no clear explanation as to why the novel’s protagonist was given what’s typically a woman’s name meaning “immaculate conception.”
An atmospheric, refreshing read that will resonate with readers from towns both small and large. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)