Spoiler-free part of the review:
Sisters Paris and Leo (Leonora) always look out for one another. Throughout their mother’s many boyfriends and their many moves, they’ve found comfort in sticking together. Paris has recently graduated from Las Vegas High. Leo is focused on her future, busy studying for the SATs and dreaming of going to Stanford and then becoming a doctor. She can’t wait to leave Las Vegas, and her gambling stepfather (Tommy) and blackjack dealing mother, behind. She gets to do just this, even if just for a handful of hours, much sooner than she expected when her sister disappears and send her on a wild chase across Las Vegas and LA.
What seemed like a routine night out—stopping at the diner Paris works at for some pie—takes a giant turn when they meet Max, a boy sitting in another booth, reading a physics book. Paris encourages Leo to talk to him, then ditches out, taking the car and leaving Leo without her wallet, her phone, or a way to get home. It seems like Paris is maybe playing some dumb joke—leave Leo with the cute new boy—but when they find a note she left behind, it becomes more confusing. “Stay calm, Leo. This is the only way. He’s making me. You have to find me.” Understandably, Paris’s message worries Leo. Why is this the only way? Who is “he”? Where is Paris? To find out these answers, Max and Leo set off on a scavenger hunt, finding note after note urging Leo along, eventually sending them to Los Angeles. Along the way, Max and Leo, who just met hours earlier, slowly reveal bits of their personal stories. It seems odd that Max would be game for trying to find the sister of a girl he barely knows, but it all makes sense once the entire story comes to light.
The whole story has a constant undertone of desperation and sadness. Things seem seedy, possibly ominous, and revelations about big pieces of the plot and major aspects of the characters are slow to come. Careful readers will quickly understand that this is not just some mystery or caper story. There is something else going on. And even if you think you know what that something else is, you are probably wrong. The dramatic culmination of the chase makes everything (heartbreakingly, horrifyingly) clear, with a major plot twist that won’t necessarily be seen coming at all. The tension will make readers race to the end of the story, and the conclusion will make them want to start the book over again to see what they may have missed. While this is a mystery and (less so) a romance, it is the much darker and more serious elements of the story that make this a hard book to put down and an even harder book to forget.
Don’t read this if you want to go into this story not knowing what the major reveal is. I hadn’t read anything about this book, so while I could see some things going on under the surface, I wasn’t prepared at all for where the book took me. This is a good thing. It was unexpected and truly caught me off guard. So really, go away right now if you want to read this book and discover on your own what happens. GO NOW!
Still here? Okay. You sure? Okay. Hi, here are spoilers:
Something is up with Tommy, the stepdad. He seems creepy. Preble has done an outstanding job of having this character that we don’t see a whole lot of come across as completely icky. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Paris is trying to protect Leo from someone. It starts to seem likely that the story we are not seeing is that Tommy has sexually assaulted Paris in some way. Leo starts to put this story together as she and Max drive all over. Near the end, Leo finds out Paris has taken a gun from a friend’s house and Leo is sure that this whole scavenger hunt was just designed to keep Leo out of the way while Paris hunts down and kills Tommy for whatever he has been doing to her.
When Leo and Max find Paris, Leo repeatedly tells her it will be okay, that Tommy won’t hurt her anymore, that he won’t touch her again. But it’s not Paris that Tommy has been raping—it’s Leo. It’s Leo. In the chapters that follow, we learn that Tommy has been repeatedly sexually assaulting her. Paris has kept waiting for Leo to say something to her about it, but Leo never has. Now the truth is out and it remains just Paris and Leo together, watching out for each other. Their mother, who always sides with Tommy, keeps asking Leo, “You’re telling the truth?” It is heartbreaking to watch her mother doubt her, to watch the girls move out, to hear from Leo what has been going on. Leo feels that Max’s protection during this horrible scene that reveals the truth is “a gift I do not deserve.” She can’t imagine Max will want anything to do with her now that he knows the truth about her. She thinks about how she trusted Max “because if a random stranger was good, then so was I.” Watching her process (slowly) what has happened and think about what this means for her life and her relationships is so painful.
There is so much to discuss here—the family dynamics, the silence, the secrets, the distrust, the suspicion, the denial, the shame and more. Because of the late reveal about the sexual violence, it forces readers to rethink what they think they know about the story and the characters. It also makes readers think about what the future will hold for Leo. This is a great addition to the list of titles that discuss sexual violence.
REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 4/21/2015