Caroline Kepnes
June 27, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

There’s nothing like a hijacking to jump-start a woman’s identity crisis. When terrorists seize Moroccan Air flight 919 to Spain, timid, bookish Alice reassesses her career (why did she drop out of social-work school?); her life (why is she sexually inexperienced?); and her relationship with her promiscuous sister. This gripping intellectual thriller shuns straightforward plotting. We first meet Alice post-hijacking, as she plunges into the rabbit hole of a school for terrorist studies. Then we jump back to the airborne drama, with glimpses of the secret histories of other hostages and a nonstop barrage of ethical queries (would you shoot a dead body?). Julavits, an editor of the McSweeney’s-backed ‘zine The Believer, keeps the narrative tense and thought-provoking, but much of it plays like a late-night dorm conversation. You’re enthralled, but the next day you wonder what you were even talking about. Meta-enjoyable, but short on heart.

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