Coming September 8, 2020
Hatchet meets Long Way Down in this heartfelt and gripping novel in verse about a young girl’s struggle for survival after a climbing trip with her father goes terribly wrong.
One year after a random shooting changed their family forever, Nora and her father are exploring a slot canyon deep in the Arizona desert, hoping it will help them find peace. Nora longs for things to go back to normal, like they were when her mother was still alive, while her father keeps them isolated in fear of other people. But when they reach the bottom of the canyon, the unthinkable happens: A flash flood rips across their path, sweeping away Nora’s father and all of their supplies.
Suddenly, Nora finds herself lost and alone in the desert, facing dehydration, venomous scorpions, deadly snakes, and, worst of all, the Beast who has terrorized her dreams for the past year. If Nora is going to save herself and her father, she must conquer her fears, defeat the Beast, and find the courage to live her new life.
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★A girl’s birthdays mark parallel tragedies for her broken family unit.
Last year’s celebration at a restaurant ended in an unexplained public shooting, and Nora’s mother died. She and her father are still wrestling with their trauma, Nora with a confirmed diagnosis of PTSD. For this year’s outing, Nora and her father head into the deserts of the Southwest on a rock-climbing expedition. They descend into a 40-foot deep slot canyon, then hike along inside until a flash flood barrels through the canyon, washing away all their supplies…and Nora’s father. She’s left to survive this symbolic and living nightmare on her own. Thankfully, she can make continuous use of her parents’ thorough training in desert knowledge. Brief sections of prose bracket the meat of the story, which is in verse, a choice highly effective in setting tone and emotional resonance for the heightened situation. Bowling’s poems run a gamut of forms, transforming the literal shape of the text just as the canyon walls surrounding Nora shape her trek. The voice of Nora’s therapist breaks through occasionally, providing a counterpoint perspective. Nora is white while two characters seen in memories have brown skin. The narrative also names local Native peoples. Elements of the survival story and psychological thriller combine with strong symbolism to weave a winding, focused, stunning narrative ultimately about the search for healing.
An edge-of-your-seat read. - Kirkus (starred review)
★Gr 4-7–Since the fateful day her mother was killed one year ago, Nora and her father have continually withdrawn further from society. Protecting their memories is how they’ve endured. While burying emotions seems to be Nora’s strength, a hiking trip in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is about to change everything. A flash flood leaves Nora alone at the bottom of a canyon; no father, no supplies, and very little hope. If she’s going to make it out alive, Nora must put her survival skills to the test and not only survive the desert, but face personal demons. Bowling delivers a poignant depiction of a young girl dealing with anxiety and PTSD. Bookended by narrative, the text transofrms seamlessly to verse in the middle (when Nora is alone in the canyon) to intensely convey Nora’s thoughts and feelings. The continued struggle over her mother’s death plays into her strife in the desert through flashbacks of therapy sessions from the past year. Forced to be alone with her thoughts, Nora battles what it means to survive versus what it means to live. As she gradually succeeds in getting out of the canyon, Nora realizes that a person is not defined by one moment, but rather, their resilience and growth over time.
VERDICT For readers who bloomed under Leza Lowitz’s Up From the Sea or Jasmine Warga’s Other Words for Home, this emotionally resonant survival tale is a must-have. - School Library Journal (starred review)
★Life can change in an instant, a fact that Nora knows all too well. It’s a year since the tragedy that stole her mother, and, like clockwork, another accident strikes, this time while hiking in a remote Sonoran Desert canyon with her father. A flash storm sends a deluge of water down the canyon’s dry riverbed, carrying away Nora’s father in its strong current. As Nora fights waves of panic, her harrowing tale of survival unfolds through a mix of free-verse and concrete poetry. Flashbacks and nightmares fill in details about her mother’s death and the PTSD it imprinted on the lives of Nora and her father. Nora is an experienced outdoorswoman, but the storm washed away her pack of supplies, leaving her with only her ingenuity. Determined to find her father, she begins to walk and rock climb in the direction that he disappeared. Her physical struggles—hunger and thirst, sunburned and scraped skin—are intercut with internal ones, blending her journey through grief with her current plight in the canyon. Bowling’s (Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, 2017) spare writing packs a powerful wallop, and the tense blurring of reality and nightmare effectively conveys Nora’s semi-hallucinatory state. Yet Nora finds ways to overcome the frightening obstacles before her, resulting in a triumphant story of healing and bravery. - Booklist (starred review)