In this novel, a teenager tries to find herself in 1970s California.Growing up in the Central Valley, 16-year-old Miami Montague is always looking for a break in the blandness. She discovers photography as an artistic outlet, though it sometimes leads her to uncomfortable places, like a formative encounter in the “hermaphrodite’s tent” at the county fair. The fair is also where she learns that her mother, Lilah—whose previous alcoholism and neglect shaped Miami’s childhood—is seeing a new man, a development that the teen is unsure how she feels about. She still senses the hole in her life left by her father, an anthropologist who studied Native American tribes and died shortly before she was born. Miami is still trying to learn more about him even as she confronts the issues of adolescence: love, sex, religion, identity, and what she wants to do with her life. With her three best friends, K.D., Glenda, and Jane, Miami explores Wicca and astrology, attempting to get a hold on her own mutable identity as a Virgo. “It’s a sexist stereotype because Virgo is mutable earth which is the sign of the Great Mother,” explains Jane, regarding the much-maligned sign. “Actually, the truth about Virgos is that they’re generous, creative, and fair minded—just like Miami.” But when it comes to growing up, mutability might be an asset. Abbott’s prose is precise and wonderfully detailed, capturing Miami’s passions and uncertainties. Here, she discusses her hero, Diane Arbus: “The Arbus exhibit included a lot of photographs I’d never seen before, both of freaks and the so-called normal people that were my favorites. The state of the world was such that what passed for normal was freakier than the freaks, but nobody else saw it, which was what was so great about her. The book mostly eschews big dramatic moments in favor of smaller, more slice-of-life events, painting a portrait of a girl standing at the familiar crossroads of young adulthood. It builds toward an end revelation that is both a twist and a release, setting Miami off on her path to future growth.
A wise and well-crafted coming-of-age tale.
© 2020 Sally Mansfield Abbott