This debut solo effort after several collaborations with husband Tom McNeal (The Decoding of Lana Morris, 2007, etc.) stands out in the crowded coming-of-age field. The affecting narrative springs believably from the first-person thoughts of Pearl DeWitt as she recalls her 15th summer, when, entranced by a nearly mute, illegal Mexican migrant worker, the beautiful and gifted teenage Amiel, Pearl makes choices that lead to tragedy. Evocative language electrifies the scenes between the pair, as they develop a relationship both complicated and deepened by their limited verbal communication. Her warnings to readers of impending disaster amplify rather than diminish the impact of the misguided, wrenching decisions she makes when a raging wildfire sweeps through their rural California community. Besides her poignant relationship with Amiel, Pearl navigates her father's recent abandonment of her and her mother and her complicated relationship with her cousin Robby as he blunderingly deals with his father's apparent infidelity. Notable for well-drawn characters, an engaging plot and, especially, hauntingly beautiful language, this is an outstanding book. (Fiction. 12 & up)
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McNeal's first solo novel, having written several with her husband, Tom, is a story of illicit romance set against the backdrop of the wildfires that ravaged California in October 2007. McNeal often refers to the coming destruction ("Six months from this day, a fire would leap from east to west, from Rainbow to Fallbrook. Eight lanes is a lot of concrete for a fire to cross"), amplifying the sense of loss--loss of family, loss of financial stability, loss of home, loss of love--that permeates the book. Fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother are living at her Uncle Hoyt's guesthouse, after Pearl's father walked out on them. Enter Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero, an all-but-mute teenage migrant worker who Uncle Hoyt hires, and who instantly captivates Pearl. On some level, both parties are aware that their tentative romance is doomed, but it unfolds nonetheless, and as the fires sweep through, it turns to tragedy. Through the cross-cultural romance feels familiar, McNeal writes with a superior ear for dialogue and eye for detail, particularly in describing the verdant Californian wilds before they're reduced to ash. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 8 Up--The catastrophic wildfires that ravaged Southern California in 2007 serve as the backdrop for this compelling story of a forbidden romance with tragic consequences. In the inland farming community of Fallbrook, 15-year-old Pearl tells her story through a leisurely voice. She deals with her parents' divorce; her cousin's anger at his father's suspected adultery; and, most significantly, her undeniable attraction to the alluring undocumented Mexican migrant worker Amiel, whose damaged vocal chords limit his speech but not his communication. Disaster is referred to throughout the narrative, filling readers with a sense of foreboding as Pearl's persistence overcomes Amiel's trepidation and the two draw together in an intense secret affair. All of this leads to a heart-pounding final act when the wildfire breaks out and Pearl must choose between family and romance, safety and uncertainty. The ramifications of the ill-fated decisions made by both Pearl and Amiel will surely spark strong discussion among readers. Both the plot and setting are grounded in rich, realistic detail; the author's love for the town of Fallbrook shines vividly through lyrical descriptions of avocado groves and orange blossoms. While Amiel remains a somewhat mysterious figure, Pearl's relationships with her family and friends are fully realized through her nostalgic recollections of simpler times. Drawn in by the appeal of clandestine love and looming disaster, teens will also be rewarded with much thought-provoking substance in this novel's complex characters and hauntingly ambiguous ending.--Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA[Page 121]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.