What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the central event of the plot is an attempted, though ultimately unsuccessful, rape. There's also a fair amount of swearing, drinking, and smoking by teens, and another character has an eating disorder. But teens will find it easy to root for Annabel and Owen, who aren't your typical heroine and hero, but are absorbing and unique. They will appreciate the author's message about the value of honesty, and cheer when Annabel is able to express herself.
What's the story?
Annabel's life looks pretty good. She has a loving family, lives in a beautiful home, and is a successful teen model. But her junior year of high school is looking to be the worst year of her life. Her mother has been fragile and depressed since the death of her own mother. Her sisters are fighting all the time, and one of them is hostile and dangerously anorexic. Annabel wants to quit modeling, but is afraid to tell her mother. And she has lost all of her friends because of something that happened at the beginning of the summer that she is unable to talk about, and that her classmates and former friends have drastically misunderstood. The only person who will talk to her is Owen, a loner with a juvenile record, anger management issues, and strange taste in music. But there's one thing he knows all about -- how to be honest.
Is it any good?
Until near the end, this is an almost plotless book, and it covers pretty familiar territory. Most of it is about Annabel's misery at school and home, her inability to deal forthrightly with any of her problems, and her developing relationship with troubled outcast Owen. Though the author doesn't reveal the pivotal event until near the end, most readers will have figured it out almost from the beginning. So how, then, can this novel be so completely engrossing, so difficult to put down, and ultimately so moving, not only to the teen girls who are its target audience, but to anyone?
Part of the secret lies in the author's exquisite attention to detail. Each moment is rendered so clearly and vividly that readers can easily enter Annabel's world. The characterizations are equally vivid, especially of menacing Owen who, with his bizarre musical tastes and theories and his unusual life outside school, is a real original. In all of the main and secondary characters, there's an intriguing emotional complexity that is usually missing in teen problem novels. It may seem odd to say it about a book in which, for large stretches, so little actually happens, but this is a real page-turner.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about the praise this book received. It was, among other things, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a New York Times Best Seller. Why do you think it was so popular? Do book awards -- or how many copies it has sold -- impact you in any way?
What made you pick this book up -- did you know about how popular this book was before you read it?
Teens who have also read Lori Halse Anderson's Speak might want to compare and contrast the two. Both books deal with a teen girl who finds it hard to express herself after a rape (in Annabel's case, an attempted rape). Do you find the books to be similar in other ways? Are these stories realistic?