By Laura McNeal
Pearl DeWitt lives a happy, close life with her mother in the warm California town of Fallbrook, "where it's sunny 340 days of the year" and everyone grows avocados. She and her mother live, in her uncle Hoyt's guesthouse (after their own was foreclosed upon), the life of roommates or close sisters. They don't make their beds, watch flicks, and raise silkworms in the living room. Everything seems perfect to Pearl, until, suddenly, everything changes.
She moves to high school, for one thing. From nowhere, her best friend grows both a splendid chest and a foot taller. Greenie has less time for Pearl, it seems; the time they once spent together is now wasted with older guys, beer and parties.
The greater change, however, is the introduction of a new worker in her uncle's avocado farm. New workers aren't unusual; he employs over many at his orchards, some for only a season. However, something about Amiel de la Cruz Guerero catches her eye; perhaps it's his inability to speak or his homelessness. She befriends him, slowly, painfully, while he resists her intrusion into his perfectly private life. Just as they click, a romance blooms, and he lets his walls crash down, a disaster strikes.
Forest fires roar down to Fallbrook from the wilds of California, burning and smashing all Pearl ever held dear. About to evacuate, she's stopped by the crushing realization that Amiel is still in his forest abode, unaware of the danger. Now, to leave the book as the cliffhanger that it is, I'll stop here.
I strongly suggest reading it to find out the rest. Great book, great writing, creation of an ephemeral small-town clime of warmth, dryness, and tropical flora. Japanese pork tempura- warm, crispy, full of flavor and evocations of warmer times. 4.