For Catherine, an escape to provincial Guatemala galvanizes her as a mother, woman, artist, and survivor.
Humiliated by her husband's recent infidelities, Iowan artist Catherine Barnes journeys to exotic, politically tumultuous Guatemala to get some space and begin work on a new picture book, accompanied by her troubled teenage son, Isaac, who recently flunked out of eighth grade. The plan is for Isaac to work at his aunt's handicrafts store a kind of "tough-love boot camp" while Catherine explores the mountainous Mayan village of Todos Santos for painting subjects; the plan hits a snag after Isaac makes a series of bad decisions that lead to his abduction. As Isaac tries to get himself out of trouble, Catherine finds herself the target of local superstitions regarding foreigners and baby snatching. With the help of a handsome, warmhearted tour guide, Catherine draws on forgotten reserves of strength and independence to cope with the town's animosity and her son's disappearance. Clearman (The Goose's Tale) has a fluid, readable style, but her characters can lack emotional credibility and her stranger-ina-strange-land plot line fails to surprise. Nevertheless, Catherine and Isaac reach some satisfying conclusions about themselves and their future, making this a worthwhile read.