Sarah Quinn and Leigh Latoire have been friends since they were seven years old. Now they are grown-ups and mothers. Sarah’s daughter is Sphinx. Leigh’s son is Cadence (yes really).
Sarah and Leigh formed a childhood plan. When they grew up they would have a son and a daughter. These two children would marry and build a family of unequalled happiness. Up to a certain point the plan looks like working. Sphinx hero-worships Cadence because he is handsome, talented and self-confident. It seems he could do anything he wished.
Then comes a strange episode: when the children are five, Cadence deliberately kills a butterfly. Sphinx’s father warns her that there is something unpleasant about Cadence but she remains his friend until they are seven years old. Then without warning Cadence produces a flick knife (which he says his father gave him permission to own, quite untrue) and cuts Sphinx on the cheek. He is marking her as a possession.
In the aftermath of this shocking episode, Leigh and Cadence move from the USA to England. Nine years pass. Then Leigh calls Sarah to tell her that Cadence has terminal leukaemia and has asked for Sarah and Sphinx to come to England for a last farewell. Against her initial reaction, Sphinx decides to accept the summons.
The novel now revolves around certain questions. Is Cadence really mortally ill? Is he psychologically unstable? What will the trip to England involve? How will the two teenagers cope when they come face to face? What power does Cadence still exercise over Sphinx?
Anjelais’s novel poses a question which millions of people are one day destined to face. When someone close to us is faced with extinction, how do we respond? Does the approach of death excuse all other behaviour? Or do the rules of decent conduct apply even as we approach the grave?
Sometimes the circumstantial details of this book are too sketchy. For example Sphinx considers staying in England after her new school semester has begun in the USA. But the complex negotiations such an arrangement would require are glossed over.
Cadence is utterly obnoxious, even to those who want to be close to him. Does he not understand how alienating his behaviour is? Or does he deliberately reject the concern of others, knowing that in essence each of us faces death alone? This is the kind of book that gets death a bad name.