Alonso, a dirt-poor teenager living in Peru, helps out at the public health clinic his mother, Magdalena, opened, so that he can see Rosa, the beautiful and wealthy daughter of the clinic’s doctor. Alonso and Rosa are both shattered when Magdalena is assassinated by a revolutionary terrorist organization. Left with no hope, Alonso might be seduced into becoming a guerrilla in the same organization that killed his mother. Rosa becomes disgusted with her father’s complacency and leaves wealth and safety behind to somehow help what is left of Alonso’s family. In this coming-of- age novel, C. A. Schmidt tells the story of how love can find its way through poverty and war.
Told from the perspectives of Rosa, a physician's privileged daughter, and Alonso, a poor cholo (Indian) teenager, this first novel takes a harsh look at the cruel regime in late 20th-century Peru and the violent tactics of the Communist guerilla insurgency, the Shining Path. Rosa's father and Alonso's mother run a health clinic near Lima, which makes Dr. Pablo suspect in the eyes of the government and Magda a target for the Shining Path. "Alonso, if the bourgeoisie can cushion the People's misery... don't you think they will? Your mother played right into that. She became what we call a useful fool," says a party leader, explaining why the Shining Path blows up the clinic when Magda is inside. Magda's murder shatters the community, but before long graffiti everywhere defames Magda. As Alonso's father descends into heavy drinking, and as Rosa's father sees no way to reopen the clinic, Rosa and Alonso begin navigating separate and dangerous paths. Crushed, confused and regularly beaten by his heartbroken father, Alonso briefly joins the terrorists. Schmidt does a credible job of showing the seduction of terrorism in an impoverished society, and she broadens the audience by framing much of the action as a romance between Rosa and Alonso. Poetic language punctuates much of the violence: "If he opened his mouth, would words come out? Or just mist? Mist that dampened their hair and wet the dust. Everything sank like death into the ground." Ages 14-up.