Rene Steinke, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award for her novel Holy Skirts, makes an awaited return with Friendswood. Located outside of Houston, the town of Friendswood, Texas, is definitely all-American. The citizens are high on religion, high school football and the oil business. But then a hurricane uncovers not just buried toxic chemicals, but secrets and moral ambiguities that are crippling the town.

Steinke’s narration skips among four different narrators, but the most dynamic characters are middle-aged Lee and teenaged Willa, both of whom want to challenge the status quo in a community where people are clearly encouraged to “go with the flow.” Lee’s daughter, Jess, died tragically from a blood disorder that Lee is convinced was caused by the oil company’s toxic waste. She is a woman with a mission, but many think her charges against the oil companies are unfounded. Willa was raised by a conservative family that believes everything their preacher espouses. In an effort to garner attention from the cool boys, she attends a party where she is drugged and gang raped—yet her parents and pastor advise her to forget what happened to her and not make a spectacle of herself.

The two women’s struggles to bring the truth to light make for an exciting read. Lee will go to any length, legal or not, to fight against the groups that refuse to acknowledge the chemicals infecting their town. Willa works to find her voice and the courage to expose the boys that hurt her. Friendswood is full of morally complex characters that will keep you engaged until the final page.

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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