This powerful debut novel delicately blurs the line between truth and fiction as Carol unravels the fantastical stories of her mentally ill grandfather. When she and her family move to his deserted ranch in order to transfer him to a care home, Carol struggles to cope with the suffocating heat and the effects of her grandfather's dementia. Bees seem to be following her around, but the drought means this is impossible. She must be imagining things. Yet when her grandfather chooses her as the subject for his stories – tales of a magical healing tree, a lake, and the grandmother she never knew – Carol sees glimmers of something special in what her parents dismiss as Serge's madness. As she rethinks her roots and what she thought she knew about her family, Carol comes to the realization that Serge's past is quickly catching up with her present. A stunning coming-of-age story.
Eagar seamlessly blends a 12-year-old girl's summer of change with a hefty dose of magical realism in this accomplished debut. A past family rift means that Carol first meets her grandfather Serge when her family arrives from Albuquerque to sell his sheep ranch before settling him in a nursing home. Serge's question to Carol, who uses an Anglicized version of her name, Carolina "Why do you spit on your roots, chiquita?" makes her ponder her heritage. Unexpectedly drawn to her grandfather, Carol finds that her woes (an obnoxious older sister, absent friends, endless chores, stressed-out parents) pale next to the questions and fears raised in Serge's entrancing stories, which all begin, "Once upon a time, there was a tree." Fairytale motifs ("No rain for a hundred years") emphasize the stark physicality of the New Mexican mesa, with its oppressive heat, spindly sheep, and numerous dangers. Through this atmospheric setting, Eagar sustains a sense of wonder and longing for small things (bees, seeds, stories) to respond to big human needs. Ages 10 14.