That you can never truly know another person is the central truth of Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel, The Girls of Corona Del Mar, but the book is so much more than that. It is also a coming of age saga, one where the narrative begins with two golden-skinned teens in sun-drenched Corona Del Mar, and it ends years later and universes away.
At the onset, best friends Mia and Lorrie Ann share lives as intertwined as any pair of young girls. So close are they, that they can’t see the stark difference between them as anything but symbiotic. Mia’s divorcee mom scrapes by in a second-rate apartment to make ends meet. Even after she remarries and Mia’s brothers come along, they remain planted in the same spot, as if by gravity. Lorrie Ann’s parents conversely, a divinely bohemian couple, sink roots steadfastly in love and music. To Mia, Lorrie Ann’s family represents the happy ideal of an intact family.
It turns out that Mia gets pregnant in high school, and naturally, it is to Lorrie Ann that she makes her confession. Seemingly chaste Lorrie Ann, the saint to Mia’s sinner, helps her through the subsequent abortion. At the end of high school, Mia is the one who goes to Yale to pursue a degree in the classics, while Lorrie Ann becomes pregnant herself, and chooses to give up on dreams of college to have the baby.
But Lorrie Ann’s baby is born horribly deformed and from then on, she can’t seem to catch a break. She marries her baby daddy, who when his restaurant job can’t cover the requirements of his special needs family, enlists in the army. Then he is deployed to Iraq and is killed. Poor and struggling, Lorrie Ann eventually loses custody of her son.
Alternately, Mia becomes a scholar. Fifteen years later, their two lives intersect in Istanbul, where Mia and her fiancé, Franklin, are transcribing ancient narratives about the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Lorrie Ann calls Mia out of the blue and Mia goes to the marketplace to meet her, only to find her old friend traveling with a clutch of jet-setters, and addicted to heroin.
The reunion is predictably strained. Mia is just beginning to realize that she may be pregnant. She confesses as much to Lorrie Ann, who promises to keep the secret until Mia comes to terms with which path she will ultimately choose. Mia is afraid to tell Franklin, who is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. She is afraid that he won’t be ready to be, much less want to be, a father. But Lorrie Ann betrays her confidence and reveals all. One could say that as her friend, Lorrie Ann does what she feels is in Mia’s best interest. She can clearly see how much Franklin loves Mia. One could also say that as friends go, it isn’t Lorrie Ann’s secret to reveal to the fiancé of a friend she hadn’t seen in a dozen years.
Friendship. Betrayal. The nature of love, and the powerful lure of ancient mythology. Thorpe’s novel is a deep and layered journey, and for anyone who has ever deeply loved a bestie, it is well worth the exploration.