Once, in Lourdes

Lourdes, Mich., in 1968 is home to high school seniors Kay, Saint, CJ and Vera. The insular foursome hangs out in a park where they play bridge, listen to music and rail about matters both timeless and of the '60s: Vietnam, God, sexuality, drugs, race relations and the eternal black hole of teenage angst. One day, magnetic Vera, who wields a physical deformity like a weapon, challenges the friends to reveal their ugliest secrets. The dare leads to a pact so defining the group agrees to wait 14 days to carry it out, in order to ensure each member's dedication to the others.

Once, in Lourdes is Sharon Solwitz's deeply disconcerting portrait of four troubled teens bonding on the verge of adulthood, struggling to keep afloat amidst the problems that threaten to consume them. Through the perspective of overweight, sensitive Kay, Solwitz explores the pressures endured, risks taken and prices paid by each teen over the two-week period of their pact, culminating in the night of its deadline.

Solwitz (Blood and Milk), English professor at Purdue University and National Jewish Book Award finalist, flays each character wide and exposes every soft corner of their cores. The story never loses its power or focus under her steady hand, despite the wide swath of emotions and multitude of dysfunctions working on her characters. A powerful portrait of friendship, pain, anger, self-control and identity, Once, in Lourdes is a coming-of-age story unlike any other. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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