Her mother is dead, her father’s in prison and she’s trying to pass as a boy—the teenage world of Kendra “Kenny” Lugo is anything but easy in this somber fifth novel from Reynolds (Writing/Old Dominion Univ.; Firefly Cloak, 2006, etc.).
These days Kenny has just one thing on her mind—what will happen when she turns 18. For years she’s lived with Aunt Glo, her father’s girlfriend, who is mother to her own brood: oldest Tim-Tim, teenage Quincy and little Daphne (really the child of Glo’s runaway daughter Constance). They live in an old house in a quiet, Southern seaside town, a place where the abandoned carnival grounds and a soon-to-be condo development coexist. Kenny spends much of the slim novel fixing up the workshop in the backyard (where she hopes to live), and obsessing about Clara Tinsley, the college girl who was shot next door. Clara and a friend climbed through the window of what they thought was their weekend rental cottage—but they were wrong. The house belongs to Jarvis Stanley, who mistook the girls for criminals. Kenny ponders the killing over and over. But this meandering novel is centered on Kenny’s reinvention of herself—her tightly bound breasts, her shorn hair, her frantic refusal of a female identity. She claims she wanted to look like a boy to stop Tim-Tim from molesting her, but it’s not as straightforward as that. Maybe she’s a lesbian, maybe she has gender dysphoria; either way she’s taunted at school and believes she’s unlovable. Reynolds’ character study begins well—Kenny is bright, fragile and worth knowing—but too much is left unsaid, too much is filtered through Kenny’s lack of insight into her own world and ways. What’s left are the kind of snapshots Kenny takes for the yearbook—fleeting moments that hint at a larger story.
An unusual coming-of-age novel, though a bit too opaque to be a real success.