This is a difficult book. There is some explicit profanity, some very suggestive sexual language, and an extended suicide scene. Tyler is in a mess. Before the book even starts, he did something wrong and has faced legal consequences. There are struggles at home, primarily because of his explosive father. There’s an interesting girl for Tyler to consider, predictably from the opposite side of the tracks, but (spoiler alert!), I admire Anderson for not having Tyler get the girl. In fact, at the moment when he gets as close as he could dream, he nobly backs away and the incident sends him spinning toward the prospect of even more trouble. The writing is, as it usually is with Anderson, quite good (though 78 chapters?). As with Speak, though, she doesn’t seem to know how to end her stories. The confrontation and redemption scenes with his Dad come off poorly. Tyler’s soulful connection with the janitorial staff at his school is patronizing. And I’m left wondering who this book is for? The back of the book says it won prizes for Young Adults and for the Teen Age. I can’t imagine giving this to a middle schooler. Perhaps I’m naive.
There is much to admire here. The friend, Yoda, and the sister, Hannah, defy stereotypes. And Anderson knows her modern audience (a key plot point turns on cell phone photography). But what is that audience?