Thursday, November 09, 2006

What if it wasn't a coyote?

Desert Crossing by Elise Broach
4Q 4P, J S

Okay, I admit I have a little issue with this book. But I talked to a few people about my issue, and they don't agree, so it'll be interesting to see if I'm in a vast minority! Still, I liked it overall, so I'm giving it a thumbs up.

Lucy Martinez is on a road trip from Kansas to Phoenix with her older brother Jamie and his friend Kit. She is not enjoying it. For one thing, it's a long trip, and she's been stuck in the back seat the entire way. For another, Kit is a total jerk (also a total babe, but the jerk thing pretty much cancels that out). For a third, they're driving through a long, desolate section of New Mexico desert. It's way too hot and way too boring. So she's already not in a very good mood when Kit pulls out the beer that the guys bought to drink in their hotel room. What if a cop sees them and pulls them over? They're underage. Kit scoffs at that. What cop is going to be out here in the desert? Before the argument can get much further, a sudden thunderstorm whips up. It's inky black, and the rain is pouring down. They can barely see a foot in front of them. And then they feel it. The bump. The big, hollow kind of thunk that means you've hit something.

The boys are all for assuming that all they hit was a coyote. They want to keep going. But Lucy isn't so sure. She can see a patch of yellow light in the distance: a house. What if they hit someone's dog? Much to Jamie's annoyance and Kit's disgust, she insists that they go back to check.

It wasn't a dog. It wasn't a coyote. It was a girl. And she's dead.

There's nothing for it. They can't leave her there and pretend that nothing happened. Kit and Lucy head for the patch of light, knowing it means a house and someone who can call for help and the police. Enter Beth Osway, an artist in her thirties. Enter major complications.

Three underage kids in a car that reeks of beer. One dead girl with no identification at the side of the road. Jamie, the driver, is in serious trouble. The police take him to jail, and Kit and Lucy stay with Beth while things get taken care of. Over the next couple of days, Lucy's life is rocked with bombshell after bombshell. The police are deciding what to charge Jamie with. Kit is making moves on her, and she doesn't know how she feels about that. Jamie is making moves on Beth, who doesn't mind at all - but Lucy does. And there's something that doesn't quite add up about the dead girl. Where did she come from? Where was she going? What was she doing out in the middle of the desert with no backpack or anything? The only clue is something that the police don't know that Lucy has: a tiny charm she found near the victim's body. Lucy becomes convinced that there's more to the story, and she's determined to clear Jamie's name. She convinces a very unwilling Kit to help her figure out who the girl was and how she got into the desert. This is a trail that leads them straight towards danger...and straight towards some sort of strange romantic interlude, too.

There's no doubt about it, this is a book with a good hook. You're going to want to keep reading. I did, anyhow. The relationships in this book are what made it most interesting to me, not so much the mystery. Beth is an interesting character who clearly has moments in her past she'd prefer to forget. She's clearly not a people-person, so I was surprised by how she evolves. The art storyline really worked for me in helping to define characters, though I thought Beth's critique of Lucy's art work was too obviously a harbinger of things to come. Lucy drives the story, though, and she's worth spending time with. But I'm still having trouble buying the Lucy-Kit thing, even though there's no denying that the hot factor can overwhelm even the most sensible of people. It just doesn't seem consistent with Lucy's character. On the other hand, traumatic events can make people do things that are out of character, so there you go. And again, there is that hot factor!

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