This book is about high school, aka the “most dangerous place on earth.” I am sure for some readers, that will hold some resonance and a glimmer of truth. The story alternates narrators, occupying the mind and perspective of a different character per chapter. Some of which are especially heart wrenching.
One young girl, a dancer, goes to a party and gets intoxicated, this involving her getting into a car wasted with a driver who is also drunk, resulting in a huge car accident leaving her badly injured. At the party prior to the accident, she danced on a table, took off some of her clothes, etc. Black out drunk, she doesn’t remember any of it. Photos end up online. And the comments beneath them, upsetting and truly awful. Comments about how her wearing a skirt or having gotten drunk, essentially “make all of it her fault.” Classic victim blaming, which is still rampant in our culture. This book, offering some perspective on what that can feel like and do to a person.
Another narration places us in the perspective of a young girl who has an affair with her teacher. Equally heart breaking, this young girl believes she loves him, and that he loves her. (He doesn’t. He does this with loads of students). Its incredibly sad and empathy inducing to read. And yet, as the reader, you also understand how she fell for him and got into such a situation. Your heart aching when her classmates chastise and judge her upon hearing the rumors.
With having received her inside perspective to the experience, one feels a swell of understanding. And this, my friends, is what fiction can do. Studies show that those who read (both fiction and non) have higher levels of empathy than those who dont. And its true- while we may not agree with or conceive of how we might ever do such a thing or get into a certain situation, reading and stepping into the perspective of another does give one a particular sense of “huh. Maybe I personally wouldn’t have done that, but I totally get why he/she did.”
Another chapter gives us the perspective of a young, angry boy who is teetering on the edge of addiction. He misbehaves at school and is ultimately a chaotic mess. This same boy though is the recipient of his father beating him frequently, putting him down, name calling, emotional and verbally abusive, etc. So while he is a loathsome character, part of your heart still feels for him, and gets why he is the way he is.
Again with the empathy inducing aspect of reading. While we still might hate a character, and his traumatic background does not excuse his cruel heart (because we are not at the mercy of our pasts or what happens to us. We can choose healing, seeking support, and moving towards getting better and growing beyond such), we also get why he may have become that way.
And then a teacher, who gets much too close to her students emotionally. Blurring the boundaries, if you will, within her caring for them, within her wanting to understand and help them, but crossing the line in doing so. Her ultimately getting in trouble with the school when it nearly comes to a head. She doesn’t cross the line physically with any of them, nothing like that. Nor do anything that will actually harm any of them. On the contrary, she is a loving, warm and open presence to these kids.
But. Its not good in terms of maintaining a professional and even appropriate distance. We both feel for her- we get it, her emotional attachment toward the kids and yearning to help them, all while shaking our heads in knowing it isn’t going anywhere good for her. It feeling as though watching a blind person wandering into the middle of a busy intersection. Watching, wide eyed and terrified, wanting to yell and wave our arms in seeing the impending disaster that only we can see coming and the character cannot.
So, those were just a few character examples. But I have found the book to be quite gripping, a fairly (if somewhat dramatic) and generally accurate representation of many of the prototypes and experiences found in any given high school. Its a gripping and worthwhile read for sure.