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Incest is one of those subjects we just don't like to talk, or even think, about. In her latest novel, WASTELAND, Francesca Lia Block forces readers outside their comfort zones and into a story in which the love between a brother and sister provides both great joy and incredible anguish.

Lex and Marina have always been close. One of Lex's earliest memories was of his sister as a baby: "Then you reached out and curled your fingers around me, so tight, I knew you recognized me. That was the first time I knew I had a heart inside my body." The siblings' connections only grow deeper as they get older; Lex is obsessively protective of his baby sister, and Marina finds herself dressing and acting like Lex to ensure his acceptance of her. As they enter adolescence, both siblings become intensely aware of each other's bodies, until their attraction to each other comes to a crossroads one night.

As a result of their encounter, Lex betrays Marina and then commits suicide. Marina is torn apart by her own grief and her unanswered questions about her brother's death. She turns to Lex's friend West, who is willing to stand back while Marina searches for answers and wait for her to be able to love again.

It probably won't surprise anyone that this book is for mature teen audiences. Readers should be emotionally ready to deal with WASTELAND's complex subject matter. In addition, the rapidly switching narrators and points of view (including some chapters written from the perspective of the dead brother) require a sophisticated reader, as does the extended passage from T. S. Eliot's poem that inspired the novel's title.

One of the book's major weaknesses is the surprise ending, which is probably meant to provide dramatic irony but instead feels tacked on and unnecessary. Readers who are ready to grapple with Block's lyrical prose and challenging topic will be rewarded by an emotionally rich novel about a compelling and thought-provoking relationship.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 3, 2004

by Francesca Lia Block

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 006028644X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060286446