Sephora and her mother live in the seedier part of Venice Beach, California. Raised by an obscenely beautiful mother, Sephora has always felt like a small character in the fairy tale of her mother’s life, and she’s always felt lucky about that. Now that Sephora is 16, she’s ready to be the star in her own story. But sometimes, fairy tales don’t turn out like the Disney stories. When Sephora meets Felix, things take a turn for the completely unfathomable.
This is a gut-punch of a novel, but readers should know that from the start. Seph’s narration is matter-of-fact but beautifully written, and she warns readers that things “don’t really turn out the way they do in fairy tales. I’m telling you that right up front, so you’re not disappointed later.” This is not posturing on her part: Seph is hiding some dark secrets that are causing her a great deal of pain. As she relates her experiences over the summer, she reflects on a fling she had with an older man and juxtaposes this with the relationship her mother is starting with a much younger one. Her jealousy over her mother’s relationship with this new person is palpable, and her feelings about not being the center of attention with her mother is authentic.
Interspersed in the story are Seph’s own retellings of famous myths and fairy tales. She relates these stories in language both raw and rich, and the content of the stories serves as foreshadowing–or at least hints–of what Seph herself is hiding. These stories blend beautifully with the novel’s overarching narrative, and readers will be riveted by them (as well as disturbed, which is largely the point).
There are strong parallels here to Lolita, and they work so well within the story. This is a rich, nuanced, and multi-layered portrayal of a family with its share of secrets but also an abundance of love. It’s an emotional read, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. Older teens will gobble this one up and want to talk about it afterward. One of the best books of the year, hands down.
Highly, highly recommended.
Infandous by Elana K. Arnold. Carolrhoda Lab: 2015. Library copy.