Synopsis taken from Goodreads
Raised by Wanderers, sixteen-year-old Tal travels the roads of the southern wild in her Chevy by day and camps in her tent trailer at night. Hustling, conning, and grifting her way into just enough cash to save her fifteen-year-old brother, Wen, from bare-knuckle fighting was once enough to keep her dreams of traveling the whole world at bay. Everything changes when the Wanderers set up camp in a little town called Cedar Falls.
There, Spencer Sway, a boy Tal tried to hustle at a game of billiards, keeps popping up into her life—and worst of all—into her scams. Buttoned-up, starched-and-ironed Spencer talks of places where Tal’s truck can’t take her. His promises of traveling across oceans are almost enough to shatter her love of the Wanderer life.
When a boy shows up at camp, ready to make good on a nearly-forgotten arranged marriage to Tal, Tal and Wen make a pact: No matter the cost, they will use their limitless skills of grift to earn the bride price and buy back her future—even if Spencer Sway gets used along the way.
My rating: 3 stars
I was pretty underwhelmed with this story. I didn’t really know anything about it going in except that the title sounded interesting, and to be fair, the concept is very different from anything I have read before. The idea of a girl crossing the country with a cult-like camp of con artists is very interesting so I did set high expectations once I had gotten through the first few chapters.
(Also fair warning that this may sound a bit like a rant. I wrote most of this while waiting for my number to be called at the DMV so I was both irritable and did not particularly enjoy this novel so those two things combined… sorry)
Now, this might sound weird, but I think it serves its purpose as a teen contemporary novel. But that’s about all it did. There was nothing fascinating about any of the characters as the story progressed. I immediately knew that Spencer Sway was going to be important and that he would show up in the town that Tal said he wouldn’t be in. So, I suppose the story was also a bit predictable in that sense. But his character and his story with Talia really frustrated me.
First of all, the concept of time in this novel was basically non-existent and left me utterly confused most of the time. There is absolutely no indication of how long Tal’s camp was staying near Cedar Falls. I assume it was maybe 3 months since it was just for the autumn season and then they were going to leave but I felt like at some point it was mentioned that Thanksgiving had passed and then a little while later it was Thanksgiving… so basically, the timeline was very jumbled and confusing to me. I thought the use of flashbacks was well integrated for the most part, a few of them were just inserted without a break to indicate them but I could still figure out the past vs the present for the majority of the novel. So in this, presumably, short amount of time, Tal and Spencer fall madly in love. This to me is fine. Whatever. Because it’s a novel. I know things don’t just happen like this all the time in real life and I get that it’s fiction so I’ll move past it.
My next thought on Spencer was that there is no chance that knowing a girl for 2 months and falling in love with her would in any way prompt someone to lay down a wad of cash and throw away all his morals and beliefs for her. Spencer was already stuggling to accept the life his parents wanted to force upon him. I get that he already wanted out. But he changed way too quickly in too many ways.
Wen was the only character I actually liked throughout the whole novel. He was sensible most of the time and he really liked working in that Cedar Falls bookstore (as a long time bookseller who knows how it feels to just want to be around books, I can relate). He came across as very childish at times though, even though we are told he is 15, the way the story is told makes him seem much younger and more naive than he really is.
These are my thoughts, let me know what you thought about this book in the comments whether you agree with me or not 🙂 I always like to hear differing opinions on books!