L. B. Simmons
Spencer Hill Press
Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-6339-2111-5, 391 pgs., $12.95
February 11, 2020
The Wildflowers are four: Genesis (“Genny”), Adam, Chloe, and Lukas. They live with Mrs. Rodriguez, who opens her home as long-term foster placement for the Sacred Heart organization. Genny is a former heroin addict; Adam was kicked out of his home when his parents discovered that he is gay; Chloe attempted suicide when sixteen years of parental neglect reached critical mass; and Lukas is a mystery.
From these horrific pasts, the Wildflowers, with the loving and generous but firm acceptance of Rodriguez; the help of Sally, their young therapist; and the toughly compassionate safety net they’ve made of themselves, have worked hard to reach a new, hopeful equilibrium. When a tragedy occurs, the Wildflowers’ strength is tested like never before.
We, the Wildflowers is the new young-adult novel from Texas author L. B. Simmons. The prologue engages immediately and dramatically with Chloe’s suicide attempt. Adult readers may respond to the prologue’s prose as melodrama, but remember that we are dealing with teenagers here, for whom so many things are seemingly a matter of life and death, and this time, they truly are.
The tale unfolds in Chloe’s first-person narration, beginning a year after her placement with Rodriguez. The wildflowers—symbols of freedom and resiliency—that inspire Genny’s philosophy and the group’s name are white, symbol of new beginnings and fresh starts. The Wildflowers are compelling characters, each of them an individual with a back story well-integrated with the present, informing their actions and re-actions. Yet these sharply drawn characters are afforded further development, and it is a pleasure to witness.
Genesis, living up to her name, is the wellspring for the energy infused in every page of this book. “With her hot-pink hair, light dusting of freckles, and luminous green eyes, [Genny] looks like a very pissed-off version of Strawberry Shortcake …” Simmons’s themes are dark throughout the book, but she leavens the heavy atmosphere with Genny’s unapologetic, challenging wit. She vows to free Chloe’s “bitch mode”: “I will find it. I will expose it. I will nurture it.” For Chloe’s part, she wants to be “distinct in [her] edges,” not some “filler piece” in the puzzle.
Simmons is adept at a teenage sensibility. Chloe describes Adam and Lukas as “Yin and yang. … Light and dark. Skinny jeans and boot cut.” Chloe’s crush on Lukas is particularly well done in its youthful sweetness and hormonal electricity. She’s afraid of “pulling a Yoko,” and frustration makes her snarky with him: “I’m Lukas. I’m broody and detached. I offer little breadcrumbs of hope with my dimples…”
Before the next printing, a light copy edit is a good idea, but the errors aren’t numerous enough to be distracting. There is a lot of therapy-speak, and the book could be tighter—some unnecessary repetition explains the almost four hundred pages. The bad guys sometimes come across as cartoonish, but others are rendered in their full humanity and allowed redemption. These are quibbles and not enough to detract from the enjoyment of a very good novel.
We, the Wildflowers is a harrowing story of damaged youth and gut-wrenching violence, redeemed by empowerment, the benediction of forgiveness (of others and ourselves), discovery of commonalities, and celebration of differences. The Wildflowers are more than the sum or their parts, stronger together.
When she's not attending a volleyball tournament, a theater performance, or a cheer competition, L. B. Simmons can be found creating characters that face real-life problems. Her goal with each book is to provide fictional friends for those who feel alone or misunderstood so they may help guide readers through the challenges that will mold and shape them. She is the author of the Chosen Paths series and the Mending Hearts series. Simmons’s most recent book, We, the Wildflowers, was chosen as a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Simmons lives in Texas with her husband and their three daughters. For her latest news, visit www.lbsimmons.com.