Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon. Margaret K. McElderry, 2020. ISBN 978-1534449671. Read from library copy.
Yolanda Rodríguez-O’Connell has a little too much on her plate and not enough support. Her grandmother, Wela, has been asleep for weeks with butterflies hovering around her hair, while her father and only living parent is on a military mission overseas. Her twin sister Sonja has not only usurped Yolanda’s position with her best friend, Ghita, but is already showing signs of the magical gift the female side of their family is known for, while Yolanda is showing no sign of magic. It doesn’t help that Yolanda is allergic to the bees that are now following Sonja around everywhere! And people in town keep calling both Sonja and Wela brujas, a term Yolanda finds offensive. How does she feel about Ghita’s brother Hasik, who might be crushing on her? And what on earth would happen to her dog, Rosalind Franklin, if social workers find out that she and Sonja don’t have any adults living with them?
All of this is too much, especially when they are all still grieving Welo’s death just a year ago.
So when Wela wakes up one night and asks Yolanda to bring her to the old burned pecan tree far out on their property in the New Mexico desert, Yolanda is sure both that taking her there will fix everything and that she doesn’t need any help to get there. But even as she gets ready for a day of pushing Wela there, grass starts to grow, so fast she can hear it, and taller than her head. (This didn’t sound so magical to me in the title, but is very magical experiencing it in the book.) And it turns out that all of the previously mentioned young people are unwilling to let Yolanda go off on her own.
And then the way back disappears, leaving them no option but to continue forward, with plenty of time to think about how they got where they are, including learning some tragic family secrets from Wela in her brief moments awake. Though the book starts out with Yolanda feeling isolated and overwhelmed with sadness, it doesn’t stay that way through the book. This is perfect for people who love character-driven fiction with a side of wilderness survival.