Hunter isolates a slice of life primarily in a trailer park, her characters grappling with the dimensions of their limited choices—in particular Dayna (Baby Girl) and Perry, rebellious teens who seek heady moments of freedom by sneaking out at night to get drunk and steal cars. Red-eyed and sleepless, they appear in class each day only to repeat their antics in an effort to alleviate what they assume is boredom. Perry has begun to question why she follows Baby Girl into the night, her friend’s half-shaved head and bizarre makeup the face she turns to an indifferent, even hostile world since her older brother’s motorcycle accident left him with severe brain damage. Baby Girl is angry; she needs an outlet for the feelings that build up inside her.
The cluttered confines of the double-wide Perry shares with her mother and stepfather grow ever smaller for the more attractive of the two girls. She privately nurtures a crush on classmate Travis while studiously ignoring a once-beautiful mother, Myra, who hides behind nightly drunkenness when her husband leaves for his overnight shift at the local prison. Perry’s stepfather, Jim, is the only responsible (if enabling) adult, consciously forcing himself “not to lie on the ground and wail” while doing his rounds at the prison. He returns home to greet his bleary-eyed wife and errant stepdaughter, whom he drives to school each day. Perry has the beauty her mother once enjoyed but hasn’t learned the meaning of self-worth, taking her cues from those around her with few options and little imagination.
Another character, Jamey, lurks around the edges of the girls’ activities. He has made overtures to both Baby Girl and Perry on Facebook, posing as a high school student. His real object is Perry, and the fact that he lives with his mother in a trailer nearby gives him more insight into how he might approach the girl with whom he has become obsessed. Jamey harbors fantasies, watching the girls as they come and go, even making friends with Myra, though he uses a made-up name. Jamey proves a catalyst in a drama fueled by angst, rage, dissatisfaction, and diminishing hope in a world of few rewards. However dire the circumstances, Lindsay holds her finger firmly on the pulse of her story, building its interlocking emotional structure, a fragile edifice at best. But it is this very fragility that makes the novel so seductive, relatable humanity caught in a vortex of bad choices.
The girls are an anomaly, a pairing of ugliness and beauty. Baby Girl claims a rough identity that is purposefully off-putting. Perry’s beauty, on the other hand, allows her to dabble in outlaw behaviors with a sense of invincibility, however false the reality. The girls pursue ugliness in provocative behavior, Baby Girl emotionally damaged, desperate for escape, Perry equally lonely and taking her cues from inauthentic sources. There are no solid adults for guidance, even the conscientious Jim defeated by the burdens that leach his energy and pound his goodness into pulp.
In the end, it is the screeching howl of wrongness, one mistake, one misstep too many, that pushes this group of people into a fatal reckoning, a moment of utter defeat. Despite the despair of a circular existence, the characters cling to hopefulness, the idea that things could be different without any personal effort—that ugly girls can transcend their foolishness one more time, that fate will intervene.