Casi, who is almost fourteen years old, has been skipping school and spending her days hidden among the hedges in a local park, listening to music and reading women's magazines. One day, Viejo, a fifty-year-old man, stumbles upon her hiding place, and the two strike up a friendship. He tells her about birds and Nina Simone, buys her soda and chips, and spends almost every day talking with her.
Despite their age gap, there's something childlike about Viejo that leads Casi to believe that he's not like the other men she's encountered, the "dangerous ones." But Viejo has a number of secrets in his past—all of which would be of grave concern to Casi's parents or any other adult who witnessed one of their rendezvous. As these secrets rise to the surface, the clock is ticking, the weather is growing cold and the school is untangling Casi's set of lies, setting up a moment where something has to give.
With spare, direct prose, Sara Mesa imbues these two outcasts with a great deal of warmth, raising questions about society's prejudices and assumptions, and creating a truly moving novel of an "inappropriate" relationship.
Set primarily within a city park, the engrossing latest from Mesa (Four by Four) charts the budding friendship between a 13-year-old girl and an unemployed 50-something man, who first meet when he chances upon her hiding behind a hedge to avoid being caught for skipping school. They strike up a conversation, and the next morning, he returns to their hideout. Days turn to weeks as they devise nicknames for each other "Soon" (asked her age, she says, "I'll be fourteen soon") and "Old Man" and he teaches her about his love of birds and the music of Nina Simone. Soon notices Old Man's short temper and wonders how he can afford to spend so much time in the park. Yet she cannot help being drawn to him and begins fabricating stories about him in her diary ("she intuits that he is harmless, but if she wants to get somewhere with this, she has to imagine him as dangerous"). Mesa writes in brief bursts throughout, carefully avoiding formulaic plot developments as her characters spend more time together. The consequences of their encounters unfold in an ingenious final act set one year later, which is both unsettling and touching. This is difficult to put down.