A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
An unstable teenager is mentally and physically abusive to her younger sister, but her actions are not condoned. This character also steals money, drinks a beer, curses, and convinces her younger sister to run away from home. To survive her troubled family life, the younger sister turns to sex as a means of escape but eventually realizes it's not worth it and stops. Despite terrible odds, the younger sister relies on her inner strength (and her hope for a better future) in order to survive.
Violence & Scariness
A teen is physically and emotionally abused by her unstable older sister. While the younger sister's flashbacks of abuse are not overly graphic, they're quite powerful because she describes the abuse in a stark, "just the facts" manner. Non-graphic descriptions of an alcoholic husband beating his wife.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teen sex is implied but not described in detail. Two girls (best friends) kiss and fondle each other's breasts in a very brief scene.
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Variations on curse words: "frucking," "faresehole," and "sheeeeet." These words are used outright: "damn," "bitch," "hell," "crap," "screw," "ass," "piss."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A teenager drinks a beer; references to an alcoholic father.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this story alludes to a young teen girl engaging in sexual activity with boys, and she also has a more innocent sexual encounter with a girl. An older sister mentally and physically abuses her sibling, but while the scenes are tense, most are brief and there are no graphic descriptions. There is also mention of a teen drinking beer and an alcoholic father abusing his wife. Use of curse words is minimal, and the worst words are twisted in form (such as "frucking"). The main character suffers the trauma of losing her mother at a young age and witnessing her older sister's sudden death.
Is It Any Good?
Mazer sucks us into the story quickly and never lets us go until the very end. She employs first-person narrative to perfection by exposing Em's thoughts, which swing from memories of the past to her present situation and are occasionally shattered by the angry voice of a third party -- Em's dead sister Pamela. Flashbacks switch seamlessly to the present and back again as Em's life slowly unfolds, and each page seems to answer one question while forming a new one. We want and need to read on so we can find out what went on back then, and what's going on now.
This story is raw and only rarely sentimental -- just what we'd expect from a guarded teen who has battled tough odds her entire life. The softest aspect of the story is Em's heartbreaking fixation on mother figures -- from Oprah to perfect strangers, Em fervently tries to fill a void. Yet Mazer's bare prose doesn't inhibit her ability to paint a rich portrait of Em's character -- in the end, we feel as if we know her well enough to truly care about her and to root for her in her quest to reach a happier place.
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