Little Universes

Holt. Apr. 2020. 480p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250222794.
Gr 9 Up–When high school senior Mae Winters makes a list of the things that the ocean is full of after a tsunami, including metal, pieces of buildings, palm trees, and bathing suit tops, she adds one item of her own: “my parents.” A tsunami has just destroyed the southern coast of Malaysia, where Mom and Dad went on vacation—and died. By killing off their parents before the story begins, Demetrios has created an “event horizon” for sisters Mae and Hannah—an inexplicable occurrence that they nonetheless must try to get past. Adopted Mae is the brilliant hope of the family, while Hannah, aptly nicknamed Nah, gets by with a cynical sense of humor that barely conceals her clinical depression. But Mae’s reliance on data—like her list—doesn’t begin to touch her grief; it’s Hannah who can cry, and whose near-death experience with drugs following the tragedy forces her to find her own reason to live. When a relative attempts to move the girls to a new city to make a fresh start, Hannah’s inner guru observes, “Cheer laced with guilt. Boy do I know that sound.” Nothing fake for this girl.
VERDICT This book attempts to scale too many dysfunctional mountains—but as a story of two sisters who struggle, in the aftermath of tragedy, to find the link between family and independence, it’s quite strong. For teens seeking realistic family stories.

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