By Lisette Brodey

Darla McKendrick is nine when she first hears her mother and her aunt Didi secretly discussing their younger sister, Rebecca, speculating about her life in squalor. From the moment Darla asks to know more about her mysterious aunt, she is offered nothing but half-truths, distortions, and evasions.

As Darla grows into her teen years, her life is oddly yet profoundly affected by this woman she has never known. She can’t help but notice that Rebecca seems to exist only in dark corners of conversations and that no one ever wants to talk about her—with Darla. Neither Darla nor her three cousins have a clue about their aunt, yet their respective parents appear to recoil in fear at the sound of her name.

SQUALOR, NEW MEXICO is a coming-of-age story shrouded in family mystery. As the plot takes twists and turns, secrets are revealed not only to Darla but to the “secret keepers” as well. Darla learns that families are only as strong as the truths they hold and as weak as the secrets they keep.


Lisette Brodey’s novel, Squalor, New Mexico, is a coming-of-age story that’s peripherally about squalor and not at all about New Mexico. It takes place in the not-too-distant-past, somewhere in the comfort of East Coast suburbia. It is a first-person story told by Darla McKendrick, 16, a narrator often sparked by the panicky immediacy of adolescent angst. Yet Darla as a storyteller is blessed with ironic humor, and her tale, packed with well-drawn characters, is overflowing with twists and turns. It is a young adult novel but there’s nothing childish about it: quite the contrary. It’s a gripper for either age and either sex…

Chestnut Hill Local, Philadelphia, PA

I love this book. It’s one of my top five books of all time. The characters were so believable and true to life that I wanted to meet them after I finished the book. I genuinely wanted to see how they were doing.

The reason this book is so powerful is because it offers so many lessons, very subtle lessons — the kind that offer tremendous growth to people of all ages. They are the kind of lessons that kids will learn without knowing there are any lessons.

While I wholeheartedly recommend this book for people of both sexes and all ages, I think it’s an especially great book for kids and parents to read and discuss. I was particularly impressed by the way the author shows both sides of the parent/child conflict without taking sides. Lisette Brodey writes about a family. Without being preachy, she shows how good people can make bad decisions and stresses the importance of family unity in healing. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There truly is so much more.

Ward Foley, Author, “Thank My Lucky Scars”

A great story of family being your biggest enemy and best friend as well as the gradual discovery of the humanity of parents and the depth of personal responsibility it takes to become an adult.

Christy Leigh Stewart, Author, “Loath Letters”

By turns gripping, poignant and wisely funny, author Lisette Brodey has created a narrative with Squalor, New Mexico that takes the reader on a ride that emotionally runs the gamut from a compelling coming-of-age story thru an unraveling of family secrets and disclosures that ultimately packs a real emotional wallop. It is a ride I would strongly encourage any reader to take. Be prepared to both laugh and cry as I did, with characters that are both unique and disarmingly real. I found myself in the very capable hands of a writer who imbues her characters with personality traits that feel authentic — namely her very winning heroine by the name of Darla McKendrick, a charismatic and at-times-fearless teen who is possibly the best argument for living a life of integrity that I can think of.

Ms. Brodey offers deep insight into the emotional inner life of Darla, capturing the intensity of a young girl’s emergence into early womanhood through a series of circumstances that ultimately test her innocence and belief in what is real and what is lie. I found myself reading late into the night, drawn to the twists in the plot and rooting for Darla every step of the way in a manner that I haven’t encountered often in recent fiction. A great read!

Mark Cote, Singer/Songwriter

This (Squalor, New Mexico) is a wonderful story about a girl growing up in a family that has a secret, and how this secret affects the lives of everyone in it. As this girl, Darla, moves into her teen years, she battles all the demons that go with it — bullies, hormones, boys, and her own curiosity and intellect. Having had two daughters (now in their 20s) go through this, I was amazed at how real and clear Ms. Brodey presented her young characters, right down to their thoughts and feelings while making choices, both good and bad. I also empathized very much with the fathers in the book, wanting so much to protect their children as they push the limits of family rules and moral behavior. It’s a universal parental struggle to keep those boundaries set, and again, the author scores really high marks with this aspect of the story, as the parents deal with their own demons, both past and present.

I thought this was going to be strictly a “chick” book, or one targeted for YA shelf, but I was totally wrong! While it certainly should be read by the “Agnes Thong” and “Traveling Pants” enthusiasts, this is one story that is far deeper and meaningful in examining ones values, and I highly recommend it for everyone! Lisette Brodey has that gift to be able to breathe life into her characters, and make you really care what happens to them. I’ll be seeking out her other work, as well.

Randy Simon, Monroe, New Jersey

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