Long-time best friends Marin Lospato and Chloe Niarchos are high school seniors who also are co-editors of their school newspaper. They seem like typical teens with the usual interests, with a good social circle of friends, supportive families, and realistic plans for the future. Both have a bit of a crush on “Bex,” their young, single, & popular AP English teacher, who also is faculty advisor for the paper.
Told from Marin’s point of view, the story chirps along as expected until Bex stuns Marin with an inappropriate sexual advance. When Marin awkwardly but promptly extricates herself from the situation, Bex realizes he’s misjudged her compliance, and things go downhill after that. Following the next class period, Bex apologizes that Marin misinterpreted things blah blah blah. From that point on, Marin faces the hard lesson so many people do in navigating how to address and protect themselves from those who exercise unrighteous power over them. It’s an anxiety-producing read as Marin tells her best friend (and gets shot down), tells her school principal (who plainly doesn’t believe her), eventually tells her parents (who are outraged for her), gets shot down by the school board, endures nasty harassment from her schoolmates, etc. Bex, not a nice guy to begin with, sabotages through personal influence a life-long goal of Marin’s because . . . he can. Things aren’t looking good for the moral universe.
Although Marin is young, her reactions are what a person of any age would likely experience–disbelief, self-doubt, trust in institutions to render justice, disillusionment when they don’t, lashing out in perhaps ill-judged ways, and attempts to live with it all, thinking she is powerless to fix things. Except in this case there actually is an exquisite fix that occurs. So don’t get too anxious with the read, because you’ll cheer the outcome.
Although it is an unpleasant life experience Marin has to endure, good comes out of it. In her “woke” state, she begins to find her own voice, finds people who value that voice, learns to widen her world view by seeing how her experience compares to others in different arenas, and, in fact, helps others in their own struggles. It’s a good thing.
The book has coarse language and religious profanity. Same-sex relationships are presented as normal. There is sex talk but there are no explicit descriptions. Teenagers are interested in sex, of course, and no judgements are drawn about participating, but a range of attitudes are presented, with Marin showing a good sense of self in resisting the expectations of others. The book is well-plotted and tightly-written. Characters are believable. Lessons applicable to all are learned.