Fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt and her mother live in Fallbrook, California, where it’s sunny 340 days of the year, and where her uncle owns a grove of 900 avocado trees. Uncle Hoyt hires migrant workers regularly, but Pearl doesn’t pay much attention to them . . . until Amiel. From the moment she sees him, Pearl is drawn to this boy who keeps to himself, fears being caught by la migra, and is mysteriously unable to talk. And after coming across Amiel’s makeshift hut near Agua Prieta Creek, Pearl falls into a precarious friendship—and a forbidden romance.
Then the wildfires strike. Fallbrook—the town of marigolds and palms, blood oranges and sweet limes—is threatened by the Agua Prieta fire, and a mandatory evacuation order is issued. But Pearl knows that Amiel is in the direct path of the fire, with no one to warn him, no way to get out. Slipping away from safety and her family, Pearl moves toward the dark creek, where the smoke has become air, the air smoke.
Laura McNeal has crafted a beautiful and haunting novel full of peril, desperation, and love.
"This debut solo effort after several collaborations with husband Tom McNeal (The Decoding of Lana Morris, 2007, etc.) stands out in the crowded coming-of-age field. The affecting narrative springs believably from the first-person thoughts of Pearl DeWitt as she recalls her 15th summer, when, entranced by a nearly mute, illegal Mexican migrant worker, the beautiful and gifted teenage Amiel, Pearl makes choices that lead to tragedy. Evocative language electrifies the scenes between the pair, as they develop a relationship both complicated and deepened by their limited verbal communication. Her warnings to readers of impending disaster amplify rather than diminish the impact of the misguided, wrenching decisions she makes when a raging wildfire sweeps through their rural California community. Besides her poignant relationship with Amiel, Pearl navigates her father’s recent abandonment of her and her mother and her complicated relationship with her cousin Robby as he blunderingly deals with his father’s apparent infidelity. Notable for well-drawn characters, an engaging plot and, especially, hauntingly beautiful language, this is an outstanding book."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review