2018 NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION'S 5 UNDER 35 HONOREE
A fevered, lyrical debut about two young women drawn into an ever-intensifying friendship set against the stark, haunted landscape of the Sonoran desert and the ecstatic frenzy of New York City.
Ahlam, the daughter of a Palestinian refugee and his Israeli wife, grows up in the arid lands of desert suburbia outside of Phoenix. In a stark landscape where coyotes prowl and mysterious lights occasionally pass through the nighttime sky, Ahlam’s imagination reigns. She battles chronic fever dreams and isolation. When she meets her tempestuous counterpart Laura, the two fall into infatuated partnership, experimenting with drugs and sex and boys, and watching helplessly as a series of mysterious deaths claim high school classmates.
The girls flee their pasts for New York City, but as their emotional bond heightens, the intensity of their lives becomes unbearable. In search of love, ecstasy, oblivion, and belonging, Ahlam and Laura’s drive to outrun the ghosts of home threatens to undo them altogether.
Ahlam, the narrator of this wise and poetic debut novel, grows up in the desert suburbs of Phoenix with a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother. The conflict raging overseas between Palestine and Israel provide the tense backdrop to her family life, even as she lives mostly in her imagination, the victim of startlingly vivid fever dreams that might also be premonitions. Then, in her freshman year of high school she meets Laura, a girl who was struck by lightning as a child, and the two form an intense bond that carries them through early experiments with drugs, alcohol, and sex, their friendship secured by a series of shared experiences that ultimately lead them to a mysterious man's loft in Brooklyn, where much of their tempestuous shared adulthood will play out. Both vaguely pursue careers in the arts while also succumbing to a dangerously party-fueled lifestyle that threatens to break apart the fragile lives they have built together. Glimpses of the otherworldly abound, alongside an abiding interest in the cosmos, and Assadi's lyrical prose nicely complements these preoccupations with the unreal or the ungraspable. The structure, moving back and forth in time and space, adds a sense of the magical to a sometimes tragic but always beautiful coming-of-age story.