cover image Women and Children First

Women and Children First

Alina Grabowski. Zando/SJP, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-63893-078-5

Grabowski’s magnetic debut takes place in Nashquitten, Mass., a fictional seaside town south of Boston, where the death of a high school student sends ripples through the community. Each of the two sections, titled “Pre” and “Post,” are narrated alternately by various women and teenage girls from Nashquitten before and after Lucy Anderson dies from a fall at a party. In the “Pre” chapters, Jane, a classmate of Lucy’s, is having a secret affair with their math teacher. Layla, the school’s academic adviser, spends time helping Lucy’s best friend, Sophia, tweak her college application essay. Mona, Layla’s roommate, works at a fish market with Marina, a teenager who witnesses Lucy’s death. The tragedy raises questions for these and other characters: Did Lucy slip? Was she pushed? Did she have a seizure, given her history with epilepsy? The “Post” chapters offer potential answers while also mapping out the way Lucy’s death reshapes the lives of those around her. Sophia shakes off her timidness as a new friendship blossoms with Jane, who remains hung up on their math teacher, and Lucy’s mother tries to find closure. The ennui of small-town life is perfectly captured in the slice-of-life vignettes, which coalesce into a riveting set of Rashomon-style retellings. Grabowski shows immense promise. Agent: Duvall Osteen, Aragi. (May)