In the fictional town of Ayala, California, where orange groves and old Spanish missions dot the landscape, 15-year-old Angie Arnaz is confiding her troubles to Felix, a saint of questionable origin who lives in her church basement.

Angie’s mother has abruptly left her stepfather without any indication why and insists that Angie move out of their home too. When Angie doesn’t budge, her mother threatens to call the police. Angie says, “I’m mad but I’m sort of enjoying how nuts it’s driving her.” Meanwhile, 19-year-old Jesse Francis has just returned home from fighting in Afghanistan and has enrolled in Angie’s high school. Angie is the only one who doesn’t treat him like a freak or a victim. Against everyone’s advice, the two quickly form a romantic relationship. Despite their age gap, Angie really loves Jesse’s maturity and sensitivity. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know how to handle his violent outbursts or erratic behavior. Suddenly her desire to save him is at odds with her desire to save herself.

In What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay, Amanda Cockrell has created an engaging, sharp and endearing protagonist who speaks to the reader like a best friend. Angie is instantly likable, as are supporting characters such as goofball Noah, lovable and wry Grandpa Joe and St. Felix, Angie’s stand-in shrink who doles out the tough advice, even if it isn’t what she wants to hear. Angie’s voice will resonate with anyone facing difficult choices and wondering if anyone is listening.

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