The bones of this book resemble other post-apocalyptic young adult stories based on environmental devastation: much of the land has been destroyed by drought and erosion; water is scarce; and fear and religious fervor dominate the zeitgeist. This book goes a bit further however by throwing in some improbable paranormal developments. It is also riddled by inconsistencies that detract from the story. In addition, the main protagonists are very unlikeable, as are most of the supporting characters.
Sarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt ride the trains to get difficult, low-paying jobs in egregious conditions with inadequate food and water as itinerant workers cutting maguey at farms throughout the Southwest. [Maguey is a species of agave used in the production of tequila.] From the way they talk, this is the only option left for work anywhere, although clearly there is food being grown and produced, railroad cars operating and the fuel for them generated, a clothing industry, a building industry, and so on. This is just one of the gaping plot holes in the story.
We first meet them working in the maguey fields in the town of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. They are posing as cousins instead of lovers because, as Sarah explains, any weakness or vulnerability can be exploited to lethal effect in this dog-eat-dog world. After the foreman has a fatal accident in which Sarah was tangentially involved, the two flee by train to a Texas maguey farm called “The Real Marvelous,” in spite of rumors they have heard that this farm is cursed.
They begin as usual by setting up the lie that they are cousins and that they each are attracted to others in the workers’ camp. But bad things start happening, and once again, Sarah is at the center of them. This time, however, it is not at all clear they will escape.
Discussion: Although Sarah is deeply offended by the haughtiness she (wrongly) perceives in the daughters of owners of The Real Marvelous, she herself is a far worse person than those she judges. She is selfish, clingy, and worst of all, can be horrifically cruel. Furthermore, Sarah and James not only lie to everyone they meet, but to each other as well. Since Sarah is the narrator, we know a bit about what is going on in her head, but nothing about what is going on in James’s, in spite of his major role in the story. Thus much of his behavior remains inexplicable.
After a grisly ending, we still are left in the dark.
Evaluation: I didn’t find much satisfying about this gritty story with its unsavory characters and unconvincing world-building.
Published by Algonquin Young Readers, 2017