Katherine Remy Tsai is a 16-year-old with battling professional parents who love her perfect older brother better, so much so that his schoolmates don’t even realize he has a sister. Things have been mighty stressful at home for many years, thanks to the parents’ unhappiness with each other and constant arguing.
Remy is an okay student but not a star like her brother. She has one very good friend, Melody, who has stuck with her through thick and thin since early childhood. She makes tentative forays into high school romance but is dumped unceremoniously at a homecoming dance by someone she thought was a solid boyfriend. Because of her family dynamics, Remy is emotionally needy and is devastated by the breakup. Elise–another student observing the event surreptitiously–takes pity on Remy, providing her some solace and then with an opportunity to get revenge by exploding fireworks outside the ex’s house in the dead of night.
Remy is enchanted by her new friend and begins a new dependent relationship that eventually turns unhealthily obsessive on Elise’s part. For all that her parents fight each other, they have done some good parenting, because Remy has instincts that keep quietly warning her, trying to guide her away from trouble. Unfortunately, being young and still learning to trust those instincts, she continues to defer to her friend Elise’s judgement a lot of the time. As she naturally draws away from others, though, she strikes up a new romance with a good guy, Jack, and begins to assert her independence.
It turns out that Elise is deeply, deeply troubled as the result of childhood emotional and physical abuse, and Remy’s withdrawal precipitates a terrible tragedy–the murder of her new boyfriend. Remy is torn between telling the truth about how Jack’s death occurred and not betraying her friend Elise, who cold-bloodedly shot him six times. (The book begins with Jack’s murder and slowly unwinds to a full understanding of what occurred and how Remy ultimately chooses to handle the dilemma.)
Although at times this book is a bit tedious, it does convey how difficult it is for Remy to sort out not just her relationship with Elise but with her parents, brother, and longtime friend Melody.
The book has near-constant coarse language. There is violence. There are matter-of-fact references to a same-sex couple in Elise’s high school coterie. Adult figures are presented realistically–some good and helpful, some terrible, some in-between. It’s a pretty rich canvas of characters. Through it all Remy comes to understand what she can expect from these adults. She assesses their weaknesses, histories, and world views, as well as those of her close friends, and she comes to some workable conclusions of her own that should serve her well in the future.
A big takeaway from this book for any reader: If you sense that something isn’t quite ringing true, believe it and act accordingly.
The book is well-plotted and -written. It is a somewhat depressing read, but an instructive one.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Bullying, Depression, Diversity, Dysfunctional Relationships, Grief, LGBTQIA, Mental Health, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Social Media