By Elana K. Arnold
Available now from Carolrhoda (Lerner)
INFANDOUS is frustrating to me because it is almost a great book. It has a terrific narrator, Sephora Golding, who is unaware of just how unreliable she is. She's preoccupied with fairytales and myths, stories of women and sexuality and the terrible things that can happen. She's preoccupied with her mother's sexuality. She claims to be totally cool with her mom being gorgeous and desired and dating, but she's uncomfortable with her mom's newest beau, who is only twenty five and closer to Sephora's age.
Part of her preoccupation is something that happened not long ago. This is revealed early in the book, but you may want to skip it if you hate knowing any details. Sephora was picked up on the beach by a fortysomething man named Felix. She told him she was nineteen and in college and she thought he was amazing in bed, better than anyone else she'd ever slept with. But there's a reason for statutory rape laws. Sephora isn't really sure how she feels about what happened. She's only sixteen in reality, and Felix keeps calling even though she's never answered in months. It's a complex, thorny situation that Sephora can only think about indirectly. And then there is a ludicrous soap opera reveal that Sephora never really reacts to with any strong emotion.
But INFANDOUS isn't all sex. There's also Sephora's art, mostly sculptures she makes out of found objects and then photographs with interesting shadows. There's her relationship with Jeremy, her mom's boyfriend, who gets her a job and is pretty supportive, all things being said. There's also a detour with her richer aunt and cousins. (Sephora calls her and her mother broke and poor, but it's fairly obvious that they're just lower middle class.)
I liked the tales Elana K. Arnold retold between chapters of INFANDOUS. I like how the different strands of the story wove together, all held together by the things Sephora doesn't say and how she's too young to know that she's got a big blindspot about her own insight. But I felt like the story just got goofy and ended. I think it needed to cook a little longer.