After her brother is injured in a gun accident, a teen—and her town—grapples with the aftermath in Culley’s debut.
Fifteen-year-old Liv’s older brother, Jonah, had always been a daredevil—until he accidentally shot himself with a gun belonging to his best friend Clay’s dad. Now, severely brain damaged, he requires expensive round-the-clock care. Despite Jonah’s largely passive state, Liv accords him as much agency as possible, helping him to “have his say.” As the trial to determine who’s responsible approaches, residents of former mill town Maddigan, Maine, vehemently defend their right to own guns. But firearm debates are only the surface of this character-driven drama. Introspective and inquisitive Liv’s free-verse narration vividly explores the rift between her family and Clay’s; memories of her late father; and the difficulty of surviving in her economically depressed small town. Above all, her spare, blunt lines convey her love for Jonah; her exhaustion and loneliness as her friends and overworked, overwhelmed mother grow distant; and the nuances of guilt and forgiveness. Liv’s struggle with the “little animal / inside” her that yearns for attention even as she acknowledges that Jonah “needs everything” is piercingly realistic. Fortunately, kind—if somewhat one-dimensional—secondary characters offer support, and Liv and Clay’s gradual romance is touching. The ending offers bittersweet but satisfying closure. Most characters appear white; one of Liv’s friends is Indian American.
A poignant, humanizing exploration of a sadly timely issue. (Fiction. 13-18)