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Kirkus Book Review (Spoiler Alerts)

A review from Kirkus Review, October 15, 2020.

There are some spoiler alerts .

In this debut novel, three women at their 20-year college reunion reexamine details surrounding a death their friend and former roommate supposedly caused.

In 1969, four new roommates at the Parnassus Canyon University in California hit it off almost immediately. Tasha Marie Goldberg, Elizabeth Adams, Dawn Wolfe, and Miranda Taylor are all bright, distinctive, and ambitious. But Tasha has her share of troubles and, in her senior year, goes to Kip Morgan for the answers to the upcoming biology midterm. During their secret rendezvous, Miranda jogs past, and loathsome, switchblade-wielding Kip aggressively taunts and pursues her before he fatally falls from bleachers. Though Tasha witnesses it, Miranda wants to avoid the authorities. Kip is the son of John Morgan, the board of trustees president, while Miranda, a reporter for the school newspaper, wrote a scathing investigative piece on the local police. She’s also certain Tasha’s promiscuity and academic cheating will negate her witness statement. When Kip’s friends spot Miranda, she flees and subsequently becomes a murder suspect. Reports of the death reveal John’s frightening influence: Kip reputedly suffered multiple stab wounds, which Tasha knows isn’t true. Years pass, and Miranda, still in hiding, leaves annual cryptic messages for Tasha (including a bouquet and an accompanying movie quote). Tasha, Elizabeth, and Dawn meet every year. During their 20-year PCU reunion, handsome biker Roger Gala catches their attention. He expresses an apparent interest in each woman as well as Miranda’s case. This renews the friends’ curiosity about the matter, and soon Elizabeth and Dawn may learn what Tasha has always known.

West’s concise writing throughout produces a brisk, descriptive novel. She quickly establishes the characters of the four roommates, whose social classes, life experiences, and temperaments noticeably vary. They essentially define their personalities by equating themselves with goddesses; Miranda chooses Eris, the goddess of discord. This leads to their endearing group name of “goddesses,” which they continue using years later. But the story ultimately centers on Tasha, who becomes a successful actor and marries TV director Jacob Felding. It’s somewhat disappointing since Elizabeth and Dawn are equally absorbing. Dawn, for one, who was conceived when White men gang-raped her Navajo mother, has a generally tranquil disposition and, fittingly, becomes a therapist. The fateful scene Tasha witnesses is suitably unsettling: Kip tries goading Miranda with homophobic slurs but adds a new, terrifying element by pulling out a switchblade. Similarly, the tense aftermath entails more than one person being deceitful. Although there’s no mystery with regard to Kip’s accidental death, there are a couple of enigmatic characters deftly inserted into the mix. For example, Miranda suggests that Tasha can trust one of her sources, whom she refers to only as the Marlboro Man. Roger, too, is initially puzzling, as he suddenly appears in the women’s lives, but readers will likely guess his link to Miranda’s case. The vivid final act deals with possibly clearing Miranda’s name as well as uncovering where she has been for two decades. Nevertheless, the author allows some questions to linger by the memorable denouement.

A sublime portrayal of an unfaltering friendship in the face of adversity.

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