Julia Reyes is an American girl of Mexican origin approaching her 16th birthday. A few months before the story opens her older sister Olga died aged only 23. She was run down by a truck. The whole family is grieving. But for Julia the situation is worse. Her deceased sister was, in the strict terms favoured by her parents, a perfect daughter. Her ambition stretched no further than being at home, cooking and cleaning and looking after her parents. Julia has no such limited aims. Her ambition is to become a writer.
Julia develops a desire to get to know her sister just when her sister has gone beyond her reach. Then she convinces herself that Olga must have had a secret that she took with her to the grave. The novel now poses three questions. Did Olga really have any such closely guarded secret? And if she did will her surviving sister manage to reveal it? And finally how will Julia’s quest tend to narrow or widen the gap between her parents’ view of Mexican national culture and her own much more modern view?
The novel deals effectively with Julia’s mental and emotional stress, the book’s most impressive accomplishment. But the impact of this successful portrayal is weakened because Julia herself comes across as a spiky character certain to alienate any sensitive reader. At no point beside the mental health narrative does a reader warm to this young woman.
Julia’s worst moment comes when she emerges from a psychological clinic and can think of no more graphic way of describing her depressed appearance than to say she looks like a quadriplegic. There could be no more effective way of alienating thousands of potential readers and their families.