Careful by Randy Anderson opens with Tyler returning to his tiny hometown in the Pacific Northwest after his father calls to tell him that his mother’s in the hospital, but refusing to say why. This sets the tone for the entire story, populated with characters who can’t say what’s uppermost on their minds.
At his mother’s request, Tyler begins to recount what happened on his high school exchange trip to Ecuador. Mother and son have never discussed this trip, although it’s a turning point in Tyler’s life, so as the story unfolded, I was tensely wondering if each scene would reveal the Very Bad Thing that had happened to teenage Tyler.
16-year-old Tyler finds himself spending a year in Ecuador, speaking next-to-no Spanish and vaguely looking forward to adventure in a warm place. He’s taken into a host family full of their own unspoken tensions, and then caught up in a wild expat circle, ensnared in local politics, and more. Many of the expat moments rang true for me, particularly the gringo (laowei) pricing system, language struggles, and the unique blend of the extremely successful/the awkward misfits found in expat society. The story is full of characters who are unable — or unwilling — to communicate, and through it all, Tyler’s least complicated relationship is with his adorable six-year-old host-brother, Enrique.
Without revealing too much of Tyler’s Ecuadorian adventures, as the story went on, I started to understand the taciturn adult Tyler better.
(I just got the cover art from Amazon, and suddenly realized the cover art is not generic stock photo to mean overwhelming, but actually Grabby Hands, and now I am sad.)
I received a copy of the novel from the publisher to review. Review and comments are, as always, my own.