Andrea Portes pens a hardscrabble novel that addresses the nature of life between the cracks. Her young protagonist, thirteen-year-old Luli McMullen, the daughter of two pathetic drunks spiraling into daily dysfunction, is incidental to her parents’ personal needs.
Such an unpredictable life weighs heavily on the shoulders of the child who is the glue that holds this disastrous marriage together, neither parent capable of sustaining even the briefest of traditional roles. Luli exists on meager fantasies and macaroni and cheese until the day her father drives off and her mother disappears with yet another man. Luli hits the road with change on her mind.
What Luli finds on her journey isn’t much better than what she left behind, the world outside her door just as cold and uncaring, but home is no longer an option, Luli flat out of trust. Leaving Nebraska with her thumb in the air, her first experience with hitchhiking is hardly successful, the beady eyes and strange demeanor of Eddie Kreezer prompting Luli to adapt an attitude of weary provocation. Soon Luli finds herself on the side of the road, vaguely satisfied that the ride didn’t work out as expected.
Taking refuge in a ditch, Luli is rudely awakened by the world-weary Glenda, a coke-sniffing hustler on a timetable without much patience for a little girl’s questions. Adopting Luli as a shoplifting accomplice, Glenda decides the girl can offer some advantages.
Holding herself together with street-smart dignity, Luli watches and waits, adapting to the needs of the moment and more wary with each passing day, unable to trust Glenda’s motives any more than her own mother’s inconsistencies.
When Eddie Kreezer - apparently Glenda’s former partner in crime - once more enters the picture, Luli is even less certain of the future. There is really no safety for Luli in the current arrangement, Glena as unpredictable as her supply of drugs. The sordid situation rapidly spirals into chaos as Luli considers ever decreasing options, trapped by the unpredictable violence of her companions.
Written from the perspective of this scrappy teen, it is clear she is in over her head, her life choices limited by virtue of birth. The security of a loving family is best left to others; Luli is trapped in a vise that offers few choices. On her nightmarish road trip to another life, Luli has the characteristics of a survivor, vaguely similar to Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina but with an acerbic tongue and a wry view of the world at large.
Refusing to be cowed by her experiences, at thirteen Luli is already measuring the future: “Maybe something happened somewhere along the way, something mean and unforgiving”. Making no excuses, Luli sets her sights on California, now a seasoned traveler on the road of uncertainty.