When her best friend, Ryan, goes missing, 14-year-old Lia struggles to figure out who she is without her other half.
In a tiny California town, Lia and Ryan are outcasts: Ryan was one of the first girls in their class to go through puberty, and Lia is one of a handful of black kids. In middle school, the two bonded over their mutual love of Exene, a powerful female punk rocker. For years, they have been inseparable—until Ryan falls in love with 19-year-old Neil and disappears, leaving Lia in a sexist, racist town that she’s not sure she can survive alone. Despite the promising premise, the treatment of oppression lacks subtlety, focusing on shocking incidents and ignoring the myriad ways racism, sexism, and classism affect everyday lives. Debut novelist Collins frequently reduces complex motivations to single, unconvincing incidents: Ryan’s brother, for example, becomes a white supremacist after a black boy humiliates him in a fistfight rather than because of his family’s declining class status, which would have been a fascinating (and highly relevant) motivation to explore. This is particularly disappointing since the text does have glimmers of poetry and real insight—as, for example, when Lia’s father hopes that the person responsible for his daughter’s friend’s disappearance is not black. In addition, the prose is clunky and verbose, making the pace feel slower than it is.
A potentially fascinating coming-of-age story that sadly misses its mark. (Fiction. 14-18)