cover image Dark Water

Dark Water

Laura McNeal, Knopf, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-375-84973-2

McNeal's first solo novel, having written several with her husband, Tom, is a story of illicit romance set against the backdrop of the wildfires that ravaged California in October 2007. McNeal often refers to the coming destruction ("Six months from this day, a fire would leap from east to west, from Rainbow to Fallbrook. Eight lanes is a lot of concrete for a fire to cross"), amplifying the sense of loss—loss of family, loss of financial stability, loss of home, loss of love—that permeates the book. Fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother are living at her Uncle Hoyt's guesthouse, after Pearl's father walked out on them. Enter Amiel de la Cruz Guerrero, an all-but-mute teenage migrant worker who Uncle Hoyt hires, and who instantly captivates Pearl. On some level, both parties are aware that their tentative romance is doomed, but it unfolds nonetheless, and as the fires sweep through, it turns to tragedy. Through the cross-cultural romance feels familiar, McNeal writes with a superior ear for dialogue and eye for detail, particularly in describing the verdant Californian wilds before they're reduced to ash. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)