cover image All the Secrets of the World

All the Secrets of the World

Steve Almond. Zando, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-1-638-93002-0

Fiction writer and essayist Almond (Bad Stories: What Just Happened to Our Country) stuffs his debut novel with a lurid if convoluted story of teen friendship and crime in the Reagan era. In 1981, 13-year-old Lorena Saenz, a Sacramento eighth grader with a passion for learning, is partnered by her teacher with Jenny Stallworth for a science fair project. Lorena, who is being raised by a single mother from Honduras with modest means, becomes friendly with Jenny’s wealthy parents, who include her in family meals and take her camping. Then, Jenny’s father, Marcus, falsely accuses Lorena of trying to hit on him before inappropriately embracing her, an encounter witnessed by Lorena’s older brother, Tony. His hostile response makes him the prime suspect after Marcus vanishes and is believed to have been murdered. Because Jenny’s mom knows Nancy Reagan slightly, she improbably manages to get the first lady, still traumatized by the attempted assassination of her husband, to try to prioritize the investigation (“The ghostly currents of political power run through the grid of law enforcement,” Almond writes). The truth about Marcus is a yawner, and whatever deeper message Almond tried to imbue is lost in the outlandish plotting. The author’s fans will have fun with this Day-Glo rendering of the early ’80s, but in the end it falls short. Agent: Jenni Ferrari-Adler, Union Literary. (Apr.)