This was an interesting book, but not one I enjoyed an enormous amount. It's about environmental illness and a community built in the desert for those suffering from these illnesses to live without the chemicals and disturbances of the modern world.
The main character is Ash, an eighteen-year-old who stumbles upon Snowflake, Arizona while searching for his step-brother, Bly. He finds Bly, but also finds much more.
Not long after arriving in Snowflake, Ash succumbs to the illness the other residents suffer from and finds himself seriously debilitated by it. When he goes to a doctor, she tells him it's all in his mind, that there is nothing physically wrong with him. Yet any time Ash ventures away from Snowflake with its specially built houses, his illness worsens.
So he stays in Snowflake, learning all he can from the eccentric group of residents scattered through the high-altitude desert.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is imploding in some mysterious way, but cloistered away in the safety of this community, Ash is unaware.
I found this book a frustrating read. I found the concept interesting, but something about the way it was written felt really distancing and I never really warmed to any of the characters, especially Ash, the narrator. A lot of things happened to him, but I never felt like he had any real agency or did anything to change or drive his own destiny. He just drifted through the story, absorbing things other people told him or that he read in a way that made me feel like he was being constantly manipulated by everyone around him.
I wasn't even convinced that his illness wasn't something he picked up from one of the others in the desert community. I wanted to believe he was genuinely ill and that this environmentally caused illness was real, but because he seemed so suggestible, it was difficult not to believe he was made ill because he heard about these illnesses from the people around him. Ash needed somewhere to belong, and by becoming sick like the others, he became a part of the community.
So this is one of those books that doesn't quite manage to execute its ideas as well as I might have hoped. That said, it's still interesting and there are some ideas in there that will probably stick with me for a while.
But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:
In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, Mona and her neighbors are all sick. But this isn’t any ordinary sickness: modern life has poisoned them, and when Ash too falls ill, the doctor’s response is, “It’s all in your mind.” Meanwhile, as Ash lives through a cycle of illness and recovery and loss, the world beyond is succumbing to its own affliction: a breakdown of civilization only distantly perceived by Ash and the isolated residents of Snowflake, from which there may or may not be a chance for recovery. This humane and thoughtful novel is about resilience, trust, family, and love, when all seems lost.