Carolyn See provides the Bridges family with all the materialistic wealth to rank them among Los Angeles’ elite: a 1967 Jaguar, a safe Volvo, car-phones, an exercise bike, a rowing machine, a house in the hills, lovely gardens, and a maid. But the high-tech gadgets and the perfect home offer no solace when teenager Whitney Bridges is badly injured in a car accident which claims the life of her carefree, beach-bum friend.
Whitney’s mother Wynn, though pained by her daughter’s condition, cherishes the closeness Whitney’s temporary immobility allows them to share. They revivify their relationship which began deteriorating when Wynn married her second husband, Jerry Bridges—a workaholic financier caught up in transforming some Asian island into a paradise vacation-spot for Pacific Rim power-players. Jerry awkwardly distances himself from his family; billion-dollar deals and the freedom he sees on the painted faces of native islanders more commonly hold his attention.
Jerry finds delight only in Whitney’s youth, beauty, and strength. He admires her courage but is unable to communicate with her. As for Wynn, Jerry is content to know he has provided her with a nice home, but he remains unaware of her boredom and oblivious to her needs, of which she herself has only vague notions. Only Whitney truly seems to understand the key ingredients of happiness which she discovers with her best friend Tracie on some wild trips to Hawaii and Baja California.
After developing her characters to a high-point of interest and likeability, Carolyn See wreaks havoc on her novel, killing off Whitney, her younger brother Josh, Tracie’s infant brother, and nearly a dozen other Los Angelenos in a fatal car accident. Only after this catastrophe do the remaining Bridges reconnect and learn to value one another, under the influence of Whitney, who has been mystically transformed into “golden arches”—See’s vision of the afterlife. In her “parallel universe,” Whitney needs only to think of a place in order to be there. She thinks of her family and divinely guides them back to each other, allowing See to conclude her engaging novel with hope and a faith in the interconnectedness of all human souls.