With another aching deep dive into human spirituality, Emily France mines her home state of Colorado in a novel of a teen girl's harrowing search for her missing younger sister—and her own search for self.
Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Essence McKree feels older than any seventeen-year-old she knows. Ever since weed was legalized, her mother has been working in a pot shop, high more often than not. Lately it’s been up to Essa to care for her nine-year-old sister, Puck.
When Essa meets Oliver—a brainy indoor type who’s in town for the summer—she is cautious at first, distrustful of the tourist crowd and suspicious of Oliver’s mysterious past in Chicago. But Puck is charmed and pushes Essa toward him. Soon Essa finds herself showing Oliver the Boulder she has forgotten: the mountain parties, the long hikes . . . and at Oliver’s urging, the exploration of Buddhism at the local zendo. When Oliver agrees to accompany Essa on a three-day survival game in the Rocky Mountains, she feels a lightness she hasn’t known in a long time. Then she discovers that Puck has stowed away and followed them into the wilderness. After spending a night stuck in a mountain storm, Essa wakes to find Puck missing. Now Essa must rely on her newfound spiritual strength if she is to save her sister’s life, and ultimately her own.
In this memorable, Zen Buddhist-centric novel, 17-year-old Essa, a native of Boulder, Colo., must care for her little sister, Puck, because their perpetually high-on-marijuana mother refuses to. Oliver, a recent transplant to Boulder, is also close to his younger sister, Lilly, and is grieving over how Lilly's serious mental illness has affected their relationship and family. Over the course of slow, intense, and reflective alternating chapters, Essa and Oliver meet, fall in love, and face tremendous hardship with the awe-inducing beauty of the Colorado wilderness as a backdrop. France's prose is dense with ideas and practices related to Zen Buddhism and thoughtful about how these practices apply to Essa's thoughts and life struggles. France also shows her expertise in camping and survival in the wilderness, as Essa and Oliver become lost in the mountains during a storm and must fight for their lives and Puck's. Essa's struggles with her irresponsible, absentee mother are fierce and poignant, as are Oliver's in response to his sister's schizophrenia. This is a beautiful, gentle, contemplative story certain to both fascinate and educate readers about a new way of encountering the world and all the challenges within it. Ages 14 up.