Sam(antha) is a 17-year-old girl with divorced parents. Her mother, although professionally successful, is severely OCD. Her dad has flown off to live and work in his native England, leaving Sam alone to cope with her. (He says later in the book he didn’t realize how bad off his ex-wife was.) Sam is smart and a very fine artist. Somewhat because of her home situation and somewhat because she’s a bit off the bubble personality-wise, she avoids people as much as she can, although she has one very good and long-standing friend, Will.
One day Sam is surprised in the art classroom by Zoe, the quintessential successful and beautiful high school senior, who wants to borrow one of her paintings to use as a stage prop in a play she is helping produce. Zoe has her own issues: her mother is recovering from cancer, her brother Jonah is severely disabled and about to be put into a group home, her boyfriend (for whom she has lost the zing) is pressuring her to have sex, and she is riddled with angst because she was a “safe haven” baby dropped off anonymously at a fire station as an infant. Her efforts to hide her sadness about her origin and her “strange” brother (whom she and her parents love with all their hearts) have led her to construct a more cheery facade than truly represents who she is.
So we have two girls who have built careful walls around themselves to keep others out both physically and emotionally. Nevertheless, kind Zoe is genuinely impressed with Sam’s talent, and a few texts eventually lead to a good friendship anchored in a fanciful sci-fi world they banter back and forth about thru texting. Unfortunately Sam, who is gay and not socially-savvy anyway, mistakes Zoe’s interest and ruins things by making a romantic play for her. They part, but over time, as each grows and as each one’s home situation improves, they recognize the value of their friendship, and there is a promising reconnection looming (though still not a romantic one for Sam).
One way in which Sam “liberates” Zoe from her carefully constructed persona as a “good girl” is to teach her how to talk using ugly language, so there is a lot of coarseness, primarily of the F-bomb variety. There are some sexual references (not awful). Early on we realize Sam is gay, so the theme of same-sex attraction is a significant one.
There are a lot of individual and family problems in this book (which otherwise is well-written) to depress the reader. It’s pretty heavy to have so much all in one story, and the resolution of some of the problems seems a bit too tidy. But hey, it’s good for fiction to be hopeful. Some advice I draw from the book includes: Don’t keep family secrets from the kids; don’t move far away from your growing kids when you divorce; don’t retreat from people but find SOME way to stay connected to them; recognize which problems are yours to solve/handle and which are not.
Now, this will sound harsh, but hey, I’m a volunteer reviewer here. The people in this book have first-world problems for sure, many of which make me want to slap them up the side of the head and tell them to be grateful and get on with things. A key to the mother’s OCD trouble (and possibly divorce) and depression is a miscarriage many years earlier. The family mourns the loss of a son/brother who never developed to see the light of day in the first place. Zoe feels bad that she must go to a local (albeit private and renowned) college while her peers are going off to bigger or more faraway schools. Although raised by extremely loving parents under comfortable conditions, she feels like a throwaway. Sam’s father wants her to come see him all the way in London, where she snags an internship and lives an interesting life. She ends up at a first-class American university. Gimme a break, people. Nevertheless, learning goes on with all the characters and progress is made on many fronts, resulting in a more hopeful prospect for all.
Depending on your community’s standards, this might be a good book for your collection.
Categories: Art, Controversial YA Topics, Death and Grieving, Depression, Differently Abled, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Social Media, Theatre & Film