cover image The Red Grove

The Red Grove

Tessa Fontaine. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-60581-0

Fontaine’s expressive debut novel (after the memoir The Electric Woman) blends a teen girl’s coming-of-age story with a probing portrait of an intentional community for women in Northern California. Sixteen-year-old Luce Shelley has been living in the remote and woodsy commune, known as Red Grove, for the past eight years. Her mother, Gloria, brought her here with her little brother and Gloria’s twin sister, Gem, after Gem was attacked by her boyfriend, fell into a coma, and entered a vegetative state from which she has yet to emerge. Una, Red Grove’s charismatic and fanatical leader, has her eye on Luce as a potential successor, but Gloria, a psychic, is less committed to the commune than many of the others, and wants a different future for her daughter. More complications ensure when one of Gloria’s clients dies from a heart attack on the premises. After a reporter calls with questions about the commune’s suspected role in the man’s death, Gloria disappears. Luce, in trying to find her mother, discovers more about Red Grove than she bargained for. Though a melodramatic ending strains credulity, Fontaine shines with the complex story of Luce’s evolving understanding of her community and her family. This tugs at the heartstrings. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (May)