The summer before senior year gives Sephora Golding time to surf, work on her found-object works of art and reflect on the turn her life has taken.
Seph shares a low-rent apartment in Venice Beach, California, with her stunningly gorgeous mother, Rebecca, who Seph used to imagine was a mermaid. Left by Seph’s father and shunned by Rebecca’s family, the two have always been unusually close. Last year, Seph had a brief fling with an older man; now Rebecca’s having a summertime romance with a younger one. Seph relates her summer tale of self-discovery in a matter-of-fact, occasionally foulmouthed teen voice. She intersperses her account with hard-hitting yet sumptuous versions of fairy tales and myths, from “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Rape of Lucretia” to “Demeter and Persephone.” From her vantage as narrator and storyteller, she points out that “[t]hings don’t really turn out the way they do in fairy tales. I’m telling you that right up front, so you’re not disappointed later.” She calls one of her sculptures Infandous, meaning “something that’s too terrible to be spoken aloud.” Hers is a world of raw physicality, underscoring the contrasts between beauty and ugliness, wealth and poverty, light and shadows that play out as secrets unfold.
A coming-of-age story consciously reminiscent of Lolita, this multifaceted portrayal of family bonds surprises with its nuanced and sometimes-searing emotional gravity.
-Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Sephora Golding, a 17-year-old found-object artist, used to imagine that her gorgeous mother’s life was a fairy tale, but their home on the seedier side of Venice Beach belies those fantasies, and the secret that Sephora is holding inside is the stuff of tragedy. Making haunting use of interspersed myths and fairy tales rife with brutal depictions of cannibalism, mutilation, and rape, Arnold (Sacred) crafts a simmering mystery about Sephora’s secret shame, her personal infandous—the “unspeakable shit” she carries with her. Sephora’s revelation is truly startling, though given the preternaturally close relationship Sephora and her mother share, it’s hard to imagine that Sephora keeps the bombshell under wraps without setting off her mother’s intuition. (Similarly, none of her friends bother with so much as a probing question while she crafts more twisted pieces of sculpture.) Nevertheless, Sephora’s painful journey and its lack of easy answers will stick with readers, as will its razor-sharp commentaries on sexual and societal double standards."