A teen tries to escape a miserable existence by posing as someone else.
The window in 15-year-old Leah’s bedroom in her shabby basement apartment has “thick black bars and a window well full of garbage, dead leaves, and spiders.” She’s harassed for being fat; her mother gets drunk on wine nightly and smirks that Leah’s desire to become a doctor makes her “pretty big for [her] britches.” So when Kurt King, who’s at least 26, wants to talk to her skinny, blonde friend Kristy over the phone, Leah calls him instead and pretends to be Kristy. In Leah’s mind, she’s a third girl: not Kristy, whose cruel, heartless friendship is “an addiction, sort of like smoking,” nor herself, with her “huge billowing emptiness” inside. During phone conversations with Kurt King, Leah feels alive —though she knows he’s dangerous. Wills describes gritty physical detail without romance or drama, from Leah’s shabby apartment and the bleak, desolate downtown of Hilton, Colorado, to how sick Leah feels as she quits smoking. Leah makes two new friends—Anita, who’s probably Mexican-American, and Carl, who’s white like Leah and Kristy—and treats them deplorably out of guilt, confusion, and habit; their steadfast forgiveness helps her through an assault and to an ending that, while absolutely unidealized, has clear possibility.
A melancholy, memorable piece tackling shame, unkindness, poverty, and, finally, hope. (14 & up)