While this novel is really for the YA set, an abundance of positive reviews convinced me to give it a try. While the author has good intentions—themes of problem-solving, acceptance of loss and the effects of trauma on young lives—Millay opts at the end for an easy resolution, wrapping really horrendous issues up in a garland of happily-ever-after. As with other novels written precisely for this audience (such as The S-Word), the primary characters are teens dealing with issues far beyond their means to solve, a surplus of alcohol and sex further muddling the scenario andif adding titillation. (As a reviewer of advanced years, it was hard to justify sticking with this book, but I wanted to see how Millay would use her pivotal characters to reach solutions.)
very damaged young people come together in a small Florida high school,
attracted to each other by the tragedies that have shaped their lives, though
neither shares their pain with the other. The mutual attraction is born rather
of denial, a goth girl and a lonely boy with dark secrets not of their making
but burdening their lives nevertheless. When Nastya Kashnikov arrives on campus
as the new girl, she is dressed head-to-toe in provocative black, flaunting her
sexuality but creating distance from others by her animosity and general rage
toward the world. That and the fact that she doesn't speak. She could, but she
has chosen not to verbally communicate as a way of controlling her environment
and staving off reality.
From the breadcrumbs strewn on the path, readers understand that Nastya was once a piano prodigy, her left hand now too damaged to ever touch a keyboard again (though it isn't obvious enough to be disfiguring) as well as other, less obvious physical damage. Nastya is attracted to loner Josh Bennett, who seems to a have a force field around him—no one speaks to him regardless of his good looks. It seems Josh has lost all his family members, one after another: first mother and sister in an accident, then father, grandmother, grandfather. Josh is the last man standing. Of course, both teens are gorgeous and mutually attracted, though in the manner of star-crossed lovers destined to suffer heartbreak (and torment one another in mutual dysfunction).
The heartbreak is, of course, of their own making. Their actions driven by personal tragedies, both Nastya and Josh have created protective mechanisms to survive the blows life has dealt them. Josh avoids emotional proximity lest he be abandoned again, while Nastya remains filled with rage at the future she faces, deprived of the talent that had thus far defined her. The premise is reasonable; the plot, however, stretches believability, from the moment the silent newcomer arrives at her new campus, circling Josh as she decides how to approach him. Clearly attention-seeking in her manner of dress, Nastya avoids communication through her silence, creating an obstacle for any but the very determined.
The circumstances are also strange. Josh is newly emancipated, and Nastya lives with an aunt who works nights, thereby freeing the high school student to keep whatever hours she pleases. Once again, we have teen protagonists dealing with adult problems, their solutions dictated by limited experience, exacerbated by sexual activity and alcohol. Whatever parental figures appear, they hardly interfere with the activities of these underage characters. In fact, the adults act as helpless bystanders, allowing the young people to make critical decisions. Millay is selective in the challenges she offers her two protagonists, tailoring them for the most drama and conflict but wrapping all up with a bow. TMI and too many ingredients in this uneven stew best left to a young audience that won't demand consistency.