Just before she started high school, Annabeth had found out the truth about her never-known father: he had raped her mother, and her subsequent pregnancy had forced her to leave college early.. Now Annabeth is starting senior year, and this festering knowledge, which she sees as a monster inside her, begins to affect her and her relationships.
Since freshman year, she and Noe have been the tightest of friends, though the dynamic of the friendship is clearly set that Noe has the power and Annabeth goes along with it. Annabeth now begins to tentatively branch away from Noe: She meets a boy at the homecoming dance, she makes friends with Noe’s latest boyfriend, and she sticks with their dream of going to Northern University, even as Noe decides to go to the local college.
As the narrator, Annabeth is a gem. She’s at heart a nature girl, but has sublimated this as Noe is not. However, it breaks through in her language: “All I knew was that I felt happy and loved, a trembling leaf on the great big tree of the world.” Ms. Smith (Wild Awake, 2013) has a masterly hand with similes that are often surprising and always evocative: “Some friendships ended all at once and some were like Athenian ships, each part slowly replaced over the years until one day, even if you had never left the deck, you couldn’t recognize it any more.”
The author brings a maturity to this novel that was slightly lacking in her debut, which I found a little overwrought. The characters are all as real as life and their responses to their situations feel true. The friendship between the two girls ricochets with authenticity as they grow and then break apart
The novel bracingly takes on some universal teen issues: bulimia, depression and closeted homosexuality. It may be controversial because of the matter of fact way that (spoiler alert) Annabeth enjoys a casual sexual encounter, finds out she’s pregnant and then has an abortion and refuses to feel sad or guilty, but I LOVED that.
As Annabeth, forever clutching her copy of (the fictional) How to Survive in the Woods by Wilda McLure , heads towards graduation and the next chapter in her life, her experiences have led her to a peace and resolution that feel truthful and optimistic.
With the subject matter and initial slow pacing, this one’s best for more mature teen readers.