A grieving boy befriends an unconventional girl in a small Southern town in Standish's debut.
Twelve-year-old Ethan, his parents, and his older brother move from Boston to live with his grandfather in Palm Knot, Georgia, ostensibly so they can help Grandpa Ike as he ages but actually, says Ethan, “because of what I did to Kacey.” At his new school, Ethan, who is white, befriends a small, feisty black girl, Coralee, who seems on the outs with most of the other students for reasons that are not clear. Coralee leads Ethan through strange adventures—investigating an abandoned house, stealing and restealing jewels—as narrator Ethan gradually relates his history: that he dared his best friend, Kacey, to climb a tree and she fell; she's not dead, but she's in a coma. Much of Standish's writing is smooth, but her characters often act inconsistently, seemingly in order to further the plot, as when Grandpa Ike, who otherwise ignores the family, teaches Ethan to drive his truck. Ethan's own deceptive self-narration seems designed to string readers along. The improbable ending falls short of being emotionally satisfying, probably because the emotions expressed in it don't ring true.
This is the sort of melodramatic story that relies on the characters never telling each other the whole truth; add that to being yet another book about a tragic medical situation for a miss. (Fiction. 8-12)