This tightly-plotted thriller marries a coming-of-age story to violent revenge fantasy. Much of Katherine’s life is a brittle facade, a giant wall of secrets as she tries desperately to bury the tragedy of her past. When she gets an invitation to attend Alice Parrie’s eighteenth birthday party, Katherine, for the first time in years, sees her world beginning to transform. Katherine
is surprised that Alice even knows her name, for Alice is one of “those girls” - beautiful, popular, impossible to miss. Strikingly gorgeous, Alice is a picture of perfection, her skin always golden and luminous.
Katherine has spent the last few years hiding from her past, lamenting the loss of her sister, Rachel,
and shielding herself from the attentions of her devastated parents, who have turned inward and isolated themselves from the world. But Katherine is also plagued by that night when she realized the awful truth about herself: a shameful, grubby coward lies at the core of her soul.
Now, however, Alice has arrived, giving Katherine a new lease on life, readily admitting that she has more in common with Katherine than she could ever have imagined. Meeting for an evening of dancing and laughs at Aunt Vivian’s apartment, Alice’s eagerness to get drunk on Vivian's whiskey is tempered by Katherine, who is just happy to listen and enjoy her new friend’s fierce energy, her "joie de vivre."
Clearly, this will be a friendship where the collateral damage is unavoidable. While Robbie, Alice’s boyfriend, delivers newfound brotherly love to Katherine, he also
delivers a stern warning that becomes all too real when the three spend a weekend away at Coffs Harbor, a small beach town north of Sydney. As Alice begins to exhibit signs of instability - drifting at a moment's notice from laughing amusement into anger - Katherine can’t seem to cope with the notion that Alice is getting to close to her big dark secret. Astute and perceptive, Alice is all too willing to label Katherine as a “mysterious girl with a tragic past.”
When Robbie's friend Philippa comes into Katherine's life, she brings with her a much-needed
voice of reason, yet Philippa’s kindly advice ultimately sets Katherine and
Alice on their path towards destruction. Philippa’s hunky drum-playing brother, Mick, adds a passionate element to an already tense landscape.
Only Mick can set Katherine’s heart aflame as she learns to accept the excitement of being in love, a love she mistakenly decides to keep secret from Alice.
Her decisive narrative in place, the author dissects Rachel’s final night and Katherine's anguished emotions with the tenacity of a surgeon’s scalpel. From the very first page, the book is harrowing despite the story's somewhat Americanized tone. While James's themes of underage drinking, teenage pregnancy and class envy are vital, the blame and bitterness spreading outward like a poison make this tale riveting. We can't quite believe it when Alice turns into something terribly cold and appraising, so hard and unyielding. Driven by pain, fear and anxiety, it's impossible not to see the truth in Alice's eyes, filled with an anger so "deep and dark, ruthless and black."