Fearing small-town gossip and recriminations, Kaycee struggles to continue hiding her attraction to girls when world-traveler Bren moves into town.
A string of short-lived boyfriends and a reputation for kissing “lots of boys” hides Kaycee’s growing certainty about her sexuality from her strict mother, her best female friend, and the many peering eyes of their small Tennessee town. The exception is Van, her male best friend, who happens to be gay, which allows him to rather conveniently serve as Kaycee’s confidant and matchmaker. Confidently dynamic Bren gently pursues Kaycee, and their relationship soon becomes physical, even as Kaycee repeatedly hurts Bren’s feelings by denying their relationship in public. Readers will relate to both Kaycee’s desire for secrecy and Bren’s desire for acknowledgement, which provides the novel’s most believable tension. Adding to the suspense is Kaycee’s belief that her strict, conservatively religious, authoritarian mother will condemn Kaycee’s sexuality. But ultimately their relationship never fully develops, depriving Kaycee and readers of a thoroughly tested character arc. Likewise, while readers will be rooting for Kaycee to gain acceptance, a too-tidy ending undercuts the authenticity of her journey. Kaycee is white and Bren is mixed-race white/Latina, offering Elmendorf the opportunity to examine rural Tennessee race relations as well.
Ultimately, the novel contains positive messages about acceptance, but they are wrapped in an occasionally uneven plot. (Fiction. 14-18)