To be the child of two drunks at thirteen is to be an adult, aged by the need to survive the very parents charged with your well-being. Luli McMullen knows this drama inside-out, tired of being caught in the middle as her parents slowly self-destruct. In this paean to lost-between-the-cracks children, Luli tries to make sense of a chaotic life, her circumstances weighing heavily on too-slender shoulders. When both parents descend into the madness of alcoholism in a tortured marriage, the child exists on small fantasies and macaroni and cheese. And those are the good days. Everything is measured by the number of drinks consumed, violence escalating by the hour, until one day, her father driving into the sunset and her mother gone with yet another man, Luli takes their example and heads for the road. What she finds on her journey isn't much better than what she left behind, the world outside her door just as cold and uncaring.
Leaving Nebraska with her thumb in the air, the first ride Luli accepts is a challenge. Acting tough and provocative, the teen is soon booted to the curb, thinking it just as well, the driver, Eddie Kreezer, too close to crazy for comfort. Next Luli hitches a ride with the world-weary Glenda, a coke-sniffing hustler on a mission and a deadline she doesn't care to explain. While Glenda appears trustworthy, at least not as dangerous as other options, Luli becomes more wary with each passing day, unable to trust this woman's motives any more than her own mother's inconsistencies. Holding herself together with street-smart dignity, the child watches and waits, adapting to the needs of the moment; unfortunately, her best interests are never the issue, as Eddie Kreezer comes back into the picture, an associate of the enigmatic and blustery Glenda. Luli finds no purchase in this nether-world either, drawn into a sordid situation that rapidly spirals into violence.
Written from a teen's perspective, the young protagonist is her own best defender, a tough little survivor who sees early on that her life choices are limited by virtue of her birth. The cozy security most people take for granted is never a given in Luli's world. Even after the nightmarish road trip in search of a better life, head held high, the girl realizes the limitations she faces. Like the innocent, damaged girl in Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, Luli refuses to be cowed by her experiences, at thirteen already measuring an uncertain future: "Maybe something happened somewhere along the way, something mean and unforgiving". Luan Gaines/2007.