It’s Always the Quiet Ones: A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar

I was just having this conversation the other day with a friend. I had discovered a new twist to someone’s belief set that I wouldn’t have imagined possible — something that was completely divergent from my viewpoint. Mind-boggling.

“It’s always the quiet ones,” my friend responded.

And so I shouldn’t be surprised when it comes to the adventures of Cale and Penny in Ruchika Tomar’s “A Prayer for Travelers,” but when it came to one of the plot’s climaxes, I was blindsided.

Score one for Penny, y’all.

I bought “A Prayer for Travelers” months ago and I’m embarrassed to admit it kept getting bumped for more recent releases. So, thank you, Coronavirus, for forcing me to reach into my bedside table stash. Tomar’s debut is heartbreaking and eloquent and everything you’d want in a book right now — namely, to get lost in a story and forget the world around you.

Cale Lambert is a loner in that middle place between being a girl and an adult — out of high school, working at a diner, and trying to come to terms with her grandfather’s cancer. Lamb is the only family she knows — really, has ever known — and in the midst of his decline, Cale is befriended by one of the most charismatic and mysterious girls from her school years, Penny.

The short but intense time spent together is meaningful enough to send Cale into a tailspin when Penny disappears. With Lamb slipping away and Penny nowhere to be found, Cale begins a grief-fueled search for anything that means anything to her.

A warning — this story is neither lighthearted or escapist — the predominant themes are some of the most serious we face, including the loss of loved ones. Cale’s inability to cope with her grandfather’s impending demise is difficult to watch play out across the pages, and Penny’s detachment from life in general will make your heart ache. It’s got a Thelma and Louise-ish vibe in some respects, and reminds me of “Marlena” and “The Burning Girl.”

Great read, engaging story and some really weird twists that’ll have you wincing while wondering when this is going to end up on cable somewhere. It’s like the perfect, bizarre, HBO-esque kind of show. And I want to see Cale and Penny again.

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