Tessa Lee and her little brother Travis are abandoned by their mother and her current boyfriend in a campground near the home of grandparents they've never met. Mom Sheila writes her parents' phone number in permanent marker on little Travis' naked back and leaves the firefly housecoat under which the children were sleeping when she and her boyfriend light out. The story then jumps about eight years to when Tessa Lee is 16 and she decides she must go to the touristy boardwalk a few hours away where her mother was last seen working so that she can tell her the terrible thing that happened to Travis. As Tessa Lee makes this journey, and is confronted with a truth she never wanted to face, much of the backstory also becomes clear. As you'd expect, Tessa Lee loses some of her innocence, although she is extraordinarily lucky on her journey as well but the largest growth in a character somes to her grandmother, who has tried very hard to recognize the ways in which she alienated her own daughter, Tessa's mother Sheila, and to change that in her treatment of Tessa Lee. The ending has a few too many coincidences but Reynolds resists the urge to unveil them all to the characters, even if the reader sees them, which is a bit of a help. There are several extended scenes that are completely gratuitous and offered nothing to the story, despite the desperate attempts at connecting them through the reader's guide questions. And the ultimate end to the book was too easy, unrealistic, and clearly incomplete.
This was a book chosen for my bookclub based on one member's strength of feeling for a previous book of Reynolds' and she spent most of the meeting apologizing as not one person particularly enjoyed this one. It was hard to sympathize with the characters, even as they changed, they stayed strangely flat. There were instances of lovely writing but even that couldn't save the book from mediocrity, unfortunate since everyone had wanted to enjoy it so very much. An interesting premise, it fell short of its promise.