Shelving books, looking for something to read for my upcoming review, I came across Elise Broach's Desert Crossing. While the title didn't say "Hey, read me!" and the cover art (a sad, little car on a lonely, desert road) didn't help matters, I must say that when I opened the book and read the first paragraph I was hooked: "There are some kinds of trouble you never see coming, like those thunderstorms that start from nothing at all. One minute the sky is blue and distant. Then, all of a sudden, it's dark and thick clouds are pressing down right on top of you. The leaves turn all silvery and twist in the wind, the air starts to hum, and the rain comes, so heavy and fast you can't even see. You almost never make it to the house on time."
And from this point on I couldn't turn back. The funny thing is, that's what this story is all about--making decisions from which you can't turn back. Having experiences in life that change you, for the good or the bad, from which you have to move on. The novel is told from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Lucy Martinez, who is travelling to Phoenix with her older brother, Jamie, and his best friend, Kit. They're on their way to spend spring break with Lucy and Jamie's father.
In the beginning it's as you would expect with Jamie and Kit laughing it up, talking about girls and the fun things they are doing during their senior year, while Lucy sulks in the back seat, hot and miserable. Kit pulls out some beers and after Lucy chimes in as the voice of reason from the backseat, the boys decide to crack one open anyway. Can you see where this is headed? One beer and a freak rainstorm later, Jamie hits something that he SWEARS was a coyote. Again, Lucy, always the level-headed one, convinces Jamie that it could have been someone's dog and they head back to investigate-only to find a girl, dead, on the side of the road.
The teens do the most responsible thing and go to the nearest house owned by Beth, a local, middle-aged, artist who contacts the local sheriff and allows Lucy and Kit to stay at her house while Jamie is taken into custody. As the investigation ensues and the mystery of the girl on the side of the road evolves, Lucy finds herself unable to let it go and move on. As with any mystery, I almost find myself not wanting to share any more for fear of ruining the story for you.
Elise Broach did a fantastic job of weaving numerous twists and turns into this simple tale of a road trip gone horribly wrong. In addition to the main mystery of the dead girl at the side of the road, this is also a story about change and coming of age. Throughout the novel, each character has to deal with some type of romance, and as such there is an element of death and life being embraced. I felt that the story was very well-written, and the perspective of a confused young girl was quite believable. Lucy was unsure of her actions most of time, compelled to do things, even though she knew there would be consequences later. She acted as the voice of reason throughout the novel, often times telling other characters what to do, or not to do, all the while her own actions where sometimes questionable at best. She was a very true-to-life flawed human character-I would say teen character, but I feel adults behave in this manner as well.
I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone interested in a young adult mystery read. It will keep you engrossed and on your toes, waiting to see what happens, not only to the girl on the side of the road, but what happens to three teens when they lose their innocence? I will however give a word of note: due to some strong themes and language, I would recommend this book for mature teens and those adults who enjoy a good YA book!

Recommended by Brandy Walton

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