William C. Morris Award finalist for 2017
In San Diego, California, three sisters deal with the realities of their mother’s leukemia and their double life in Tijuana, Mexico where their mother attends treatment. Instead of parents who take care of them, it is the girls who take care of their family. While visiting the clinic for her mother, Vanessa, the middle sister, meets a young man, Caleb, on remission from leukemia and they form a close bond. Caleb and his mother even come live with their family when Vanessa’s mom becomes terminal, and Vanessa feels like she has love despite the stress of her mom and their life. Vanessa also begins to really discover the strength of her dreams of playing the piano and planning for her future. However, when Caleb and his mom leave suddenly, Vanessa decides to find out what secrets they’ve uncovered, and in doing so, she and her sisters must face the worst possible betrayal and their lives change forever.
I don’t typically read books about chronic illness, since it’s something that gives me anxiety. However, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars definitely changed that for me, so now I am simply more careful about what I read. Still, I was really intrigued about this book as it really shows a different perspective of illness. Vanessa and her family are not typical. Her mother has been ill for a long time, and Vanessa and her sisters are basically running the house so their father can continue working and making the only income they have (even if his boss is horrible and not understanding of the family situation). Vanessa is still normal though and wants to live her own life. When she meets Caleb, she gets to be a little bit more normal for awhile, and their romance is sweet and real. The real test for Vanessa is when the plot twist occurs and disrupts everything. It is Vanessa who has to deal with all the fallout and who is the hardest hit by everything. It becomes more about what choices she will make because of it, and how that will then affect the rest of her family. She also discovers the value of truth and trust in a way that closely echoes real life. Vanessa becomes a tough heroine and I had a lot of sympathy for her.
This book might speak to any teen who has been deeply betrayed and is learning to trust again. The story is more for high school teens, better for juniors and seniors as it relates to a similar time in their lives when they are choosing their futures and displaying their true selves.