Monday, August 17, 2015

The Middle of Somewhere, by Sonja Yoerg

NAL/Penguin, ISBN 9780451472144, September 2015

Liz Pemberton and her boyfriend, Dante Espinoza, are heading out to hike the John Muir Trail in its entirety. Dante doesn't have any previous backpacking experience, and is to easily and endlessly social that he's delaying their start. Liz, on the other hand, is a very experienced backpacker, and had originally intended to make this hike alone, for solitude and a chance to think.

At first, we have the impression that Dante is a lightweight and a possible mistake, that Liz drifted into the relationship after her early widowhood, and bracing herself for taking back control of her life. The reality is very different. Over the early days of the hike, we realize that Liz is carrying a burden of guilt, and is bracing herself to make a confession to Dante that she believes will certainly end their relationship--but not because she wants it over.

But as Liz and Dante deal with their relationship issues, they have another problem, which at first seems just an annoyance. Among the other hikers on the JMT with them are Payton and Rodell Root, brothers who seem superficially friendly. Liz finds them, especially Payton, not just annoying, but a bit disturbing and even creepy. At first, Dante thinks she's wrong. As their journey continues, though, strange things start to happen, always when the Root brothers are nearby.

As Liz starts confessing her dark secrets, and their relationship is under severe strain, she and Dante have to cooperate ever more closely to cope with the danger presented by the Roots, who have fixated on the young couple as their primary targets.

Yoerg does an amazing job of weaving these two threads together, the unfolding of Liz's history and its effect on her relationship with Dante, and the gradual and frightening realization that the Roots are more than just an annoyance, forcing them to work together when they would otherwise simply not speak to each other. The exploration of Liz's history, guilt, and emotional issues, her relationship with her late husband and with Dante, and fight to survive the Roots is masterful. Yoerg's first novel, House Broken, was very good; this one is excellent.

Highly recommended.

I received a free galley of this book from the author.