Wow, was this book ever a struggle to get through.
Terri, Anne and Michelle are off to Cancun to soak up the sun during spring break. The three are determined to make this week - the last spring break of high school - totally different from the rest of their lives in cold, snowy Illinois. Sun, drinks, and cute boys are the order of the week!
Terri dives headfirst into the fun, drinking and laughing it up with her fellow spring breakers. Anne and Michelle are slightly more hesitant, perhaps spurred on by the numerous speeches about safety their mothers have delivered, and have an additional item on their agenda: explore the ancient Mayan ruins that aren't too far from their hotel.
On the first night at the resort, Anne and Michelle meet Ander, a fatherly-type figure, old enough to be the father of most of the spring breakers, and with a foreign (not Mexican) accent. He's planning on visiting the ruins the next day as well and invites Anne and Michelle to come with him. Both hesitate - accepting a ride from a male stranger is exactly what their mothers warned them not to do - but ultimately agree.
At the ruins, Michelle is drawn into the myths and bloody history of the Mayan culture as Ander weaves stories about the sacrifices of virgins at the top of the pyramid. For the first time in her life, Michelle feels like she's actually having an adventure, actually doing something she could never do back in Illinois. Anne, meanwhile, is getting extremely creeped out by Ander. She refuses to accompany him and Michelle to the top of the pyramid and instead meets of trio of high school guys, also from Illinois, who are willing to drive Michelle and Anne back to the hotel, so long as they don't mind making a detour to a party at the Club Med first. (Insert ominous music - you know what's going to happen next)
Kasischke does do a good job of giving the story a sense of danger and depression throughout. Michelle is constantly reminiscing about some of the more depressing aspects of her childhood and growing up. What stuck out most to me, perhaps, was her constant fixation on things she couldn't do because she was a girl. She couldn't become a doctor or an astronaut because no woman she knew in her hometown had gone on to do those things - that's what men did. She doesn't make eye contact with men because she's terrified that they all think she's going to be coming on to them. I think these feelings will ring true to a lot of young women, and while I appreciate these issues being brought up in fiction, at times they felt heavy handed here. But these ruminations are the sole reason I'm pulling out the feminist label for this book, because they are issues that feminism is trying to tackle, even if they aren't handled in a particularly feminist way in this book.
Also interesting here was the use of alternating first person and third person narrative styles, like Another Kind of Cowboy used. I thought it was interesting that I stumbled across that particular stylistic device two books in a row. Additionally, Anne and Michelle tell their stories in two different tenses - Anne's parts of the book are first person, present tense while Michelle's are third person, past tense. Unlike Another Kind of Cowboy, however, it eventually becomes obvious why the two girls are narrating in totally different styles.
My biggest problems with the novel have to do with the ending - which is clearly a spoiler. If you've read the book and want to know my reaction to the end, or don't care about knowing the end ahead of time, click on "Read More"
Once the story starts following Anne, Michelle and the boys the story becomes rather predictable, at least if you've read the jacket and know that Michelle is supposed to disappear at some point in this story. But that predictability isn't necessarily a bad thing - what got bad about this novel is how nicely everything ended.
I think when I put this book on my to-read list, I was hoping for some sort of examination of Missing White Woman Syndrome in the light of instances like Natalee Holloway's disappearance. Definitely didn't happen. In fact, this read a lot like the after-school special version of a case like Natalee Holloway's - terrible things happen to these girls (but we never know how actually terrible), but everyone ends up back in Illinois by the end. Yes, Michelle is traumatized, until a feather brings her totally back to reality. I Am Not A Doctor, and my knowledge on amnesia is limited to what I just read on Wikipedia, but generally amnesia doesn't seem to work that way. It was an incredibly frustrating ending to what was already turning out to be a disappointing/frustrating book.