Munch’s debut YA novel depicts squabbles among adolescents at a school for special needs students.
Seventeen-year-old Pearl has a form of autism called pervasive developmental disorder; she also displays obsessive-compulsive traits and self-mutilates. Each day, she takes a state-funded cab to her alternative high school, where she endures the antics of her on-again, off-again friend Luke. He sings about stinky toes and has trouble controlling his violent urges—symptoms of his Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Their conditions make for a difficult friendship, especially when Luke meddles with Pearl’s relationship with her best friend Vicki, another student at their school. Gossip, bickering and back-stabbing are the norm in Pearl’s circle, in scenes that play out during rides to school and at parties, sleepovers and other places. Mostly, however, the drama unfolds on the phone; since the story takes place in 1995, landline phones and answering machines take center stage. Although typical teenage hormones inspire some of the conflicts, the characters’ developmental issues magnify the drama. The novel renders the action from Pearl’s point of view, and she doesn’t edit out many routine details. Readers may find that she seems unrealistically mature for her age, too self-aware and insightful; for instance, she explains that Vicki has “turbulent relationships” and is “overly dependent” on others because of the way she was raised by her “inconsistent” mother. Such observations are unlikely to come from a high schooler, but they do help readers understand how Pearl’s, Luke’s and Vicki’s conditions develop and manifest themselves in day-to-day life. This makes Munch’s novel particularly valuable, as there are few young-adult reads that feature such characters; students with pressured speech, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and epilepsy also make appearances.
A melodramatic but unique tale of teen angst.