In an ill-advised effort to set his life straight, 17-year-old River Dean fakes a weed addiction and joins a support group for teens.
Senior year takes a sour turn for the white teen. Penny Brockaway ends their relationship during a boat trip for his lack of self-reflection. “You just follow along and do what you think you’re supposed to.” Wandering Los Angeles in a post-breakup daze, River stumbles across a sign: A Second Chance. It refers him to a self-help group, where addictions range from shoplifting to Molly. Believing it’ll benefit him in his case with Penny, River feigns an addiction to enlist in the group. “I was taking action. I was doing something.” Readers may often find it hard to accept or even like River. Though an absent-father subplot unearths some pathos, his manipulation of the group, obsession with Penny, and obliviousness to his own privilege crush any goodwill. Aside from the loss of Penny, River attempts to reconcile with his estranged friends, whom he’s previously neglected. On top of that, he must get his driver’s license, since “everybody knows that nobody walks in LA.” As he explores a new relationship with a girl from the support group and remakes his life, he finds it difficult to balance his lies. “Penny was right about me. I didn’t think about things,” he realizes, a valuable epiphany that nevertheless exposes the story’s weakness.
The novel ends in a buoyant mood, perhaps not entirely earned. (Fiction. 14-18)