Ally (Allison) Smith is a high school senior living in the small town of Valley Falls WI. It’s always been just she and her dad, since (she was told) her mother died of cancer when she was only three years old and there are no other living relatives. Ally and her father Jason don’t have a lot in the way of material goods. He works in construction when he can find work, and they have moved around the country a number of times. Landing in Valley Falls felt like home to them, however, and there they have resided for eight years, becoming a part of a community overwhelmingly defined by one large, good family, the Gleasons. Ally has a good home life, with a parent who watches over her and sees that she has the things she needs. Ally displays a teenager’s typical lack of interest in the backgrounds of the grownups in her life, including her father. What she has is fine, she enjoys the traditions and lifestyle in her relationship with her dad, and she has mapped out a careful plan for the future.
Unfortunately her careful plan goes awry when she starts to apply for college scholarships and finds out she has a fraudulent Social Security number. Cue the FBI! Turns out Ally’s dad (real name Daniel Linsley) kidnapped her from her mother and has been on the lam with her all this time, fearing a custody battle would deprive him of his ability to associate with her. The story is a huge media sensation, as you might guess, and Ally’s mom joyously swoops in with second husband and a half-sibling to scoop Ally (really Amanda) off to Florida where she “belongs.” In the meantime, her dad faces a great many federal charges and probably prison time.
All this happens without her mother giving any thought or care to/about what Ally wants. At almost-18, Ally has a tight group of friends in Valley Falls, a loving substitute family, and plans for a Wisconsin future. Forget all that! Since she is still a minor, Ally quickly realizes she must resign herself in the near future to taking orders from her mom. (As the story unfolds, you do get a glimpse of why her father might have felt he had to run away from her mother.)
This is an interesting story that I believe will hold any reader’s interest. It is well-developed, has tension, shows adults who are both insightful and helpful as well as those who are not, and portrays Ally as a sympathetic character. There is a little romance between Ally and a first boyfriend, and she has a nemesis at school who tries to get in her way in a few areas. Relationships, family secrets, trying to force sensitive feelings, being true to yourself while at the same time being considerate of others–these are all some of the topics touched on. This would be a good book for rewarding discussions among readers of young adult age and older.
There is one fleeting reference to a gay-straight alliance club in high school. There are many incidents of coarse language and profanity, the most common being variations of “Oh God!” and “Jesus Christ!” This language puts the book out of desirable range for a great many readers. I continue to wonder why authors purposefully want to alienate potential, thoughtful readers in this way.