Claire, Rachel, and Allison Barber share the trauma of having lost both parents in a strange and sudden accident. The youngest, Claire, and the oldest, Rachel, also share their late mother's migraine headaches. The novel's focus is Rachel's disappearance and Claire's search for her through North America, Europe, and Mexico. By herself and eventually with the help of Rachel's friend and sometime lover, a massage therapist named Brad Arnarson, Claire traces the steps of Rachel's professional (as a freelance science journalist) and personal meetings with researchers and health practitioners who work on migraines.

Initially, Claire's search is motivated by concern for Rachel and intensified by fears that Rachel's worsening migraines may have caused her to take desperate action. Her need to find Rachel is inevitably intertwined, however, with her own migraine experiences and with her drive to individuate within her family and her longterm relationship with her partner Stefan.


A cartographer by profession, Claire's mapping of her sister's travels moves her not only through Rachel's increasingly desperate search for relief from her migraines but also through their shared past. Most interestingly, this mapping of the past also moves Claire into a future that is more hers than the earlier parts of her life. Bush makes the missing-person mystery compelling enough to make the subtle shift in focus to Claire's developmental journey surprising and satisfying.

This well-written novel offers a fascinating inside look at the experience of migraine in its dailiness as well as over time. Bush explains medical theories of migraine clearly in the context of the plot, as well as offering an interesting sense of migraine culture, for example, various types of "cure lore," including anecdotes about the lengths to which migraineurs will go to relieve their suffering. She offers to the non-migraineur a picture of how migraine can shape daily life, inflect relationships, and complicate decisions about parenthood.

Bush artfully interweaves Rachel's disappearance with the clinical and experiential mysteries of migraine management and the universal one of family relationships, so that with each chapter, Claire is getting closer to Rachel, deciphering something about their parents and the siblings' relationships, and becoming more adventurously herself. Claire's story expands both beyond migraine and meaningfully through it. Of specific interest for its focus on migraine, the novel's themes can also be extrapolated to other chronic illnesses and disabilities.


Finalist for the Trillium Book Award.


McClelland & Stewart

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