They had made plans, so many plans, about their futures. They would stay connected past high school, going to college together, traveling the world together, maybe even marrying twin brothers. They would always be the best of friends, as thick as thieves, as close as sisters, no matter what. That is what they planned.
This is what happened instead.
The summer after her junior year, Chloe's parents announce that their family is going on a trip to Europe. Chloe begs to bring along Lindsay - her best friend, her confidante, her neighbor - but Lindsay's family can't afford it. This will be the first time in their years of friendship that the girls will be separated for such a time and by such a distance. While Chloe, her parents, and her older sister Zoe board a plane, Lindsay stays behind in Vegas, just plain bored.
In Europe, Chloe sees her mother come alive, becoming bubbly, happy. She considers her father, who also seems content, though not nearly as exuberant as her mother. She hears her sister complain about being away from her boyfriend and again considers how, although she loves her sister, although blood is supposed to be thicker than water, she feels much closer to Lindsay. She meets a boy named Danny who shares her age, her Vegas zip code, and her adventures in Europe. She writes postcards to Lindsay, blissful notes from each country she visits, signed with Xs and Os. ("Rome makes me want to toss coins in every fountain. [ . . . ] It makes me want to live la dolce vita every day." "Venice makes me want to blow glass and row row row your boat. [ . . . ] Venice makes me want to get lost and never be found.")
A somewhat cryptic message from Lindsay reminds Chloe of the eye in the sky - the closed-circuit cameras in casinos and other spots to ensure the people's safety and honesty. Thanks to her father, she is familiar with the song Eye in the Sky by the Alan Parsons Project. She and Lindsay talked about the eye in the sky a lot - how one of them should perform in front of a camera one day while the other stayed at home and watched the feed - but they never went through with it, preferring to stay together on their adventures about town and perhaps blow kisses to those cameras, to the hopefully cute boys who were watching, to the twin brothers that were out there somewhere, looking for them.
Europe is bigger, bolder, broader than anything Chloe's ever seen before. This, then, is where Chloe unexpectedly starts to grow up. The Vegas replicas of European landmarks can't compare to the real thing. She feels small and tall simultaneously as she walks through historical sights, rides on gondolas, and eats exotic food. She falls for Danny, and they see the Eiffel Tower together.
She expects to slide back into her life at home easily, planning on sharing her photographs and experiences with Lindsay and then slowly coming down from her travel-love-life cloud in time to start her senior year of high school. But Vegas is not as she left it, and not all of those she left behind are anxiously awaiting her return.
They had never dreamed of this.
While the eye in the sky looms overheard, things start to look different to Chloe. She is newly aware of her surroundings, almost as if she had just moved to Vegas now, rather than three years ago. But the attractions are no longer attractive. The neon lights seem too bright. Smiles, promises, everything seems fake. There's just too much that is fake, too much that seems unreal, too much, and nothing seems right. ("I went to the fridge and thought about having some water but it hadn't tasted good lately. Not that water tasted like anything, so it must've been something in me that had turned foul.")
So many things happen here, and there, and here again. Chloe's memories blur and sharpen as she attempts to make sense of it all. She no longer knows what the future brings. Regrets cloud her dream factory, making them hard to manufacture or fix. At least one person keeps reaching for her dream: Chloe's sister, the acrobatic Zoe, who finally auditions for Cirque de Soleil. Lindsay's older brother Noah, is acting differently and being difficult, but not really distant. When the truth comes out - as the truth always does - Chloe sees her parents, her sister, her friends, and herself with new eyes.
If you want to find out What Happens Here - and I strongly urge you to do so - I recommend that you get the book. Pages will turn, bridges will burn, dreams will change, and the eye in the sky will be watching everything and everyone.
What Happens Here is Tara Altebrando's second novel for teens, following her impressive YA debut, The Pursuit of Happiness. This story is just as impressive, with realistic relationships between characters, haunting happenings, and expressive writing. There's mystery here, and drama, and heartbreak. What Happens Here is a bildungsroman in every sense of the word, and one of the best books of 2008.
Another Story for Another Time
Though the two tell very different stories, I recommend What Happens Here alongside Feathered by Laura Kasischke, another eye-opening 2008 young adult novel about friendship and traveling. Also pick up Swollen by Melissa Lion and Many Stones by Carolyn Coman. You won't be disappointed.
Sometimes, I post playlists for books. For this book, however, I don't need to create a soundtrack because Jonatha Brooke already has: her 2004 album Back in the Circus. I recommend listening to it (perhaps on repeat) while reading What Happens Here. Jonatha Brooke is one of my favorite modern singer/songwriters. Her song No Net Below makes me think of Zoe's daring-do and acrobatics. The album closes with Jonatha's version of Eye in the Sky. I will forevermore associate that song with this story.
Wicked Cool Overlooked Books
I've tagged What Happens Here with WCOB because I do not what it to be overlooked. I want you - yes, you! - to go pick it up and read it. Please. Believe me when I say this story and these girls are worth your time.
Wicked Cool Overlooked Books is a monthly blog notation encouraged by Colleen from Chasing Ray: On the first Monday of every month, she posts about a book she enjoyed that she wishes others would pick up, and invites others to post their picks as well.
Read my other posts about Wicked Cool Overlooked Books.
Learn more about WCOB at Chasing Ray.
Also: What Happens Here was listed as a recommended read in the January 2009 issue of readergirlz.
Related PostsRelated Posts at Bildungsroman
Review: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
Review: Love Will Tear Us Apart by Tara Altebrando (as Tara McCarthy)
Review: Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando
Review: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando
Interview: Tara Altebrando (March 2006)
Interview: Tara Altebrando (August 2006)
Interview: Tara Altebrando (November 2012)
I included What Happens Here in my SparkNotes Literature Feature: Summer Teen Fiction Musts.
Best Books of 2008