girls of no return

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

Released February 1, 2012.

A tense, riveting tale told in flashbacks, this book hints from the beginning about terrible things that aren’t fully revealed to the reader until the very end.  The result is a book that is tinglingly tantalizing and has you jumping at shadows. 

Lida has been sent to the Alice Marshall school where troubled girls are sent to try to rehabilitate.  It’s located at the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in northern Idaho, where the students are surrounded by nature and removed from the temptations of modern life.  They live in cabins with bunk beds.  Lida lives with several other girls, including Boone who is something of a legend as she terrorizes the new students.  There is also Jules, who is so sweet and friendly that Lida can’t guess what she could have done wrong to be there.  And finally the luminous Gia, whose friendship is addictive and elusive.  Lida refuses to talk at first, drawing more and more deeply inside herself, but slowly she starts to reveal herself to the other girls and to the reader.  As the tension in the story mounts and secrets are revealed, readers are caught in the web of truths, lies, and betrayals.

Saldin’s debut is a book that mixes juvenile detention with nature, combining it all with a swirl of illicit drugs and alcohol.  The characters are all complex, especially when the reader thinks they have that character pegged, they will reveal even more of themselves.  The setting is gorgeously described from the lake to the mountains.  It serves as an important plot device throughout the book with its isolation. 

Saldin does the near impossible here, not revealing the horrible truth of what happened until the very end of the book.  Twenty pages from the end, the tension was so thick that my eyes could not read the words quickly enough.  Yet at the same time, I didn’t want this exquisite read to end.  Even better, the ending really works, offering no easy solutions to the complexity of the storyline.

The writing is vibrant and creative, the plot inventive and revealing.  This book is a stellar read that would make a great book talk.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.