It feels like too much and not enough at the same time. Courtney Summers
I took a break from the Book Challenge for this one, so it doesn’t fit into a category.
This book reads like a poem. It’s lyrical, ethereal and metaphorical.
High school senior Romy Grey is the girl from the wrong side of the track in the small unforgiving town of Grebe. Just as she gains social currency via her new friendship with the popular Penny, she loses it in one night. Drunk and in love, Romy ends up alone with the predatory Kellan who takes advantage. Kellan is the sheriff’s son, untouchable, and when Romy tells the police what happened the town turns against her.
Now a reviled pariah and target of bullying, Romy tries to keep her head down and get through the rest of her high school life. She finds refuge in her waitressing job, just out of town, where her coworkers don’t know about her past. She harbors a crush on Leon, the cook at the diner who returns the feelings.
Her delicate balance crashes when Penny disappears after a senior party held at a nearby lake. The problem is that Romy went missing that night as well, so the police had to divide their resources looking for both girls. When Romy returns, found passed out on the side of the road, but Penny does not, the town’s resentment is palpable.
Despite the beautiful prose, the book becomes infuriating as Romy makes poor choices that range between puzzling to detestable.
One of those choices involves leaving her job mid-shift to attend the senior party—an event she wasn’t interested in attending and one where she knows she won’t be welcome.
Days after Penny’s disappearance, she joins the search party, knowing people blame her for what happened that night. Worse, when Leon surprises her at the search party she’s insufferably rude to him. The reader knows her rudeness stems from her fear that Leon will learn about her past. But the reader also knows that Leon, a young black man surrounded by white people, thinks the rudeness stems from racism. Let’s just say, Romy could have handled it better.
The truth of what happened to her and Penny at the senior party unfolds towards the end of the novel. Discovering Penny’s fate lacks satisfaction since the motive feels weak and the outcome a little predictable. Though it ends on an optimistic note, the very end finds Romy making an unlikely alliance that doesn’t feel organic at all. This doesn’t ruin the book because ultimately, it isn’t about the events in the story. It’s about Romy and her journey, her defiance of those who would silence her, her healing on her own terms.
The book’s strength lies in Romy’s authentic characterization. Summers does an amazing job showing the aftermath of trauma and the depression and grief that follow. Romy’s treatment by the town serves as a stark testimony about why victims remain silent. Romy wants desperately to come out of her pain intact and because of Summers’ deft skill, so does the reader.