A teenager in a small desert town desperately searches for her missing friend in this debut novel.
Cale Lambert was born at the center of a mystery: Her mother abandoned her as an infant at the local hospital, and she was raised with no real knowledge of her parents by her maternal grandfather, whom everyone calls Lamb. As the novel begins, Cale is up against another mystery: Her friend, Penny Reyes, has vanished, leaving behind her cellphone, her emergency cash, and a smear of blood on her freezer door. In chapters that are numbered out of order like a shuffled deck of cards, Tomar flicks back and forth between the present, which includes Cale’s search for Penny, her dealings with the town sheriff, her life at home with a cancer-riddled Lamb, and the recent past, when Cale uncovers secrets about the circles Penny ran in and gets drawn into the danger herself. The further Cale goes on her desperate quest, the more she understands the ways that violence and trauma can engulf a life like a wildfire. Tomar is a superb writer of place, whether describing the tiny desert town her characters inhabit, that “sprawl of dirt and char,” or the rooms in which they live. But Cale herself is inaccessible; as a character, she is aloof and taciturn, and as a narrator, she is the same. We rarely, then, understand who she is, what she wants, or why she does what she does. This blurriness of character seems meant to resolve itself the closer Cale comes to finding the truth about Penny, but somehow, even as Cale tries to solve the mystery, she remains one herself.
Tomar is unafraid of aesthetic and emotional difficulty, but the main character’s inscrutability can sometimes undermine the story’s power.