When his parents and uncle leave nine-year-old Aldous Bohm and his two siblings alone in the woods, he panics. Instead of staying within the warm security of their cabin, he drags his siblings into the cold, rainy woods to search for the adults.
The children pass out from exposure, and while Aldous and his brother survive, their sister dies. What follows is the heart-wrenching aftermath of responsibility and recovery. The parents, who live in a marijuana-induced fog, take no responsibility for their daughter’s death. Aldous takes the blame and searches for answers everywhere: at school, in the Boy Scouts, at church. Telling the story through the eyes of a child is ambitious, but Briggs handles it delicately by displaying a unique balance between naïveté and wisdom. When Aldous reaches his 18th birthday, he commits the ultimate rejection of his parents’ lifestyle: he enlists in the army. During training in Texas, he enters into his first relationship with a woman and begins to deal with his past. The chapters flip back and forth between Aldous the boy and Aldous the young man, with his childhood echoing his later life in complex and moving ways. The novel functions partly as a reflective critique of the counterculture lifestyle, but also as a hopeful coming-of-age story. Teens will relate to the protagonist as he takes those first steps into adulthood. Beautifully told and filled with characters of real depth and struggle, the story shouldn’t be missed. — Matthew L. Moffett