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142 Ostriches

April Dávila's first novel is wise, moving and beautifully rendered. She sets 142 Ostriches on Wishbone Ranch, an ostrich farm in Sombra, a remote California town entrenched in the Mojave Desert.

The heroine, 24-year-old Tallulah Jones, is ready to fly the coop to take a Forest Service job in Montana when her Grandma Helen dies in a mysterious car crash. She is the person who rescued 13-year-old Tallulah from her irresponsible, alcoholic mother in Oakland, Calif., and brought her to live on the ostrich ranch 11 years ago. The news derails and defers Tallulah's plans. All along, Helen had groomed Tallulah to take over the 50-year-old ranch. She was adamantly opposed to her granddaughter's plans to escape to Montana. This leaves Tallulah to question the timing of her grandmother's death: Was it really an accident?

Helen's absence reunites and unsettles the extended family. This includes Tallulah's estranged mother, Laura; aunt Christine, a level-headed wife and mother who lives nearby; and erratic recovering meth-addict uncle Steve. When everyone learns that Helen has bequeathed the ostrich farm to Tallulah, emotions and rebelliousness run high in the family--and in the ostrich flock, when the sensitive birds suddenly stop laying eggs. Contentiousness further escalates when Tallulah considers selling the farm.

She is a young woman faced with difficult choices in her quest to rise above the perils of familial dysfunction. The result, Dávila's stellar debut, is infused with richly drawn characters, tightly focused suspense and authentic detail about farm and desert life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger atReading Between the Lines