A Prayer for Travelers

Riverhead. Jul. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9780525537014. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525537038.
DEBUT In a hardscrabble desert town, Cale’s friend Penny has gone missing. But the real mystery is Cale herself, abandoned at birth, raised by her grandfather, friendless in high school, then looped into her arrogant former classmate’s glow until one fierce, mysterious moment shoves them apart and sends Cale on a quest to find Penny. The story moves back and forth in time, revealing Cale’s difficult past; how she and sassy, disaffected waitress-with-a-dream Penny grew sort of close post high school; Cale’s desperate attempts to draw information from Penny’s scornful friends; a tragedy regarding her grandfather; and how violence steps in, with tension ramping up as we wonder not only what has happened to Penny but how Cale is implicated. Strikingly, the chapters are not presented in chronological order (e.g., the narrative opens with Chapter 31, then moves to Chapter 2, Chapter 5, and so forth), but there’s no confusion; first novelist Tomar builds her narrative exactingly, with scenes effectively rubbing against each other to create decided frisson.
VERDICT A fine character study of a struggling young woman, set in an arid Southwest that comes alive; gorgeous if relentless and heart-ripping. [See Prepub Alert, 1/7/19.]

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