Jahn’s latest YA novel follows a high school junior on her summer break who struggles with germaphobia in Manhattan during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Phoebe Benson isn’t a typical 16-year-old; she’s not worried about what people think of her, or even about extending her curfew. Instead, she’s scared of accidentally endangering her kid brother with Covid-19––so scared, in fact, that she’s nearly completely isolated herself. Phoebe’s anxiety has made it so that she hasn’t touched anyone in two years—not even members of her family. Although she’s seen several therapists, her anxiety hasn’t greatly lessened, and her parents don’t know how to deal with her. Still, she manages to take a pottery class and hold down a part-time job at independent bookstore Dust Jackets. But when she hears the beautiful sound of a violin in the subway station on her way to work one day––and the young man playing the instrument smiles at her––she’s tempted to move outside her cozy quarantine bubble. Phoebe’s best friend, Walter, the 64-year-old owner of Dust Jackets, lost his wife in a tragic accident years before and also has problems with anxiety. So when he encourages Phoebe to read a new book about living with anxious thoughts, she takes on the challenge. Jahn navigates the romance and social-commentary aspects of her book expertly, and the work offers strong attention to detail, a well-paced plot, and intriguing major characters. But although the author delivers fine dialogue, her teenage characters read young, and her innocent depiction of high school, although suitable for younger teens and tweens, may not entice older teenagers. Side players also don’t receive very deep characterization, independent from Phoebe’s own arc, which is a missed opportunity to dive into how friends and family can help those with mental illness.
An often engaging narrative about coping with anxiety with an optimistic outlook, despite a few flaws.