Once upon a time, there was a tree, bigger around than three men could hug. Its leaves were emerald green, and the bark black. The tree’s branches dipped and curved like a lazy river, and its roots kissed the shore of a green-glass lake (p 83).
So begins the first of many stories told to Carolina (nay, Carol) by her aging grandfather, Serge, over the course of a summer.
Instead of sleepovers, hanging out at the pool, and preparing for junior high with her girlfriends, Carol is dragged to Serge’s ranch house to help her parents watch Serge, who is suffering from dementia, and to help with her young brother Luis. Also forced to assist is Carol’s older, half-sister, the glamorous Alta. In a vast, dry dessert where it hasn’t rained for a hundred years, the family begins to pack up Serge’s life and prepare him for an assisted living facility far from his home and roots.
The desert seems alive and breathing, a huge, sandy monster that sucks moisture from bones and blows the dry, dry air up, where it rolls and churns and boils (p 11).
Among the rattlers and bony sheep, Carol is drawn to Serge and his stories. They are fantastical (How much is driven by his dementia?) with just enough overlap with the reality Carol knows to be hypnotic.
Eager’s fantastic story within a story is enchanting and reader’s will feel thirsty while staying with Carol but the encompassing story lacks a tightness and fluidity. Secondary characters are also less developed but, when seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old, this is easily forgiven.
Kirkus‘s calls this “a poignant intergenerational story about finding and honoring your roots.”
My KidLit book club members enjoyed it enough to add it to our Mock Newbery 2016 list for consideration.