McGovern explores dating, disability, activism, and impending adulthood with a bow to Jane Austen.
When intellectual but shallow Emily witnesses the sexual assault of Belinda, a student with unspecified developmental disabilities, she can't react; an AP course load and the Youth Action Coalition haven't prepared her for "Real World Issues." She atones by doing community service at the Lifelong Learning Center for young adults with developmental disabilities. Belinda, a naïve romantic who takes her cues from watching Pride and Prejudice, copes with the aftermath by listening to Colin Firth. The gradual details of Belinda's assault are as minimal as popcorn but sharp against her matter-of-fact bewilderment, and the author handles such topics as boundaries, (lack of) support, post-traumatic stress, and disclosure gently. Jane Austen references abound as Emily's and Belinda's alternating viewpoints illustrate how braving the uncertainty of relationships, expectations, and life after high school transcends class or ability. Both girls learn to look past their respective prejudices, each with her own humor, and—à la Austen—each girl gets a guy. Unfortunately, the book's uplifting ending turns upon contrivances and risks making Belinda a prop for Emily's growth. Fortunately, Belinda is engaging in her own right, and the sensitive overview of tough issues gracefully balances romance with reality.
Fans of Jane Austen will appreciate this unconventional homage. (Romance. 14-18)