First things first: choose the page, not the headset. Carrington MacDuffie’s voice is just too old to narrate the inner lives of two teenage sisters – no lilting resonance, no youthful lightness. Might I suggest that the better options for aurally appreciating the extraordinary Francisco X. Stork would be Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. The ears don’t lie.
Kate is 18, determined and independent, with secret dreams of going to Stanford – instead of the expected, local University of Texas at El Paso – and becoming a doctor one day. Mary is 16, sensitive and thoughtful, an artist gifted beyond her years, with an other-world ability to recognize light in the subjects she paints. Their beloved mother never leaves her bed … trapped in a vegetative state, kept alive only because of a feeding tube. One afternoon, their father lies down for a rest and never wakes again. Life suddenly shifts to fast-forward …
Mama needs her expensive medical care, the girls must finish school. Kate, as the elder, is faced with serious financial challenges. Aunt Julia arrives from California, but she isn’t exactly the helpful adult the sisters need, too busy criticizing their late father, avoiding her silent sister, and insisting to Kate that marrying her boyfriend Simon now is the sisters’ only secure choice for a future. Then the deacons of the church where Papa ministered for 20 years of his life announce that the family has two months to find a new home to make room for their father’s fiery young successor – who has inappropriate plans of his own.
While Papa was a loving provider, he was also a severe disciplinarian: “The only decision [the sisters] needed to make when he was alive was whether to obey willingly or unwillingly.” Without his restrictions, both girls grow in new ways: Mary finds a comforting new friendship; Kate reexamines many of hers. Both manage to find the strength to make impossible decisions with surprising wisdom – and always love.
Although Stork has a penchant for creating narratives populated by characters facing difficult challenges, he never resorts to easy feel-good answers or deus ex machina-solutions. His can’t-turn-the-page-fast-enough stories are ultimately reminders of the resilience of our youth, with a ringing endorsement that whatever they face, they can – and will – do so with tenacity and courage.
Readers: Young Adult