Kate Ashford
February 27, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

In Departures, Suzen VanderZee and her brother, Evan, dream of flight from the mundanity of their Midwestern teenage lives. Seventeen-year-old Suzen, who finds her mother suddenly unbearable, fosters a crush on an older woman and rethinks what she’s ”supposed” to do after high school. Evan, 15, longs to escape to Italy and nurtures his obsession with a racy, black-clad girl. Through their eyes, the rest of the family emerges: Aimee, the youngest, perches on the roof and believes she can fly after a near-death experience, while Hallie, 9, blossoms with the artistic talent her mother craved. Add in a bookish dad and a coquettish mom whose absences suggest a torrid affair, and you get your basic family-making-the-most-of-it yarn. Luckily, vivid language and intense characters enliven this honest portrait of domestic vulnerability.

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