Nell’s discovery of her sister’s secret tests the powerful emotional bond between them.
When Nell starts high school in San Francisco, she plans to follow in the footsteps of her near-perfect sister Layla, whom she loves with a devotion that approaches adulation. Up till now their lives have been intertwined, particularly since their parents’ divorce, but Layla is becoming distant. At first, Nell brushes off rumors that Layla’s in an inappropriate relationship with City Day’s young art teacher, but Layla’s secretive behavior can’t help but attract suspicion. In a blend of first- and second-person, past- and present-tense narration, Nell addresses her sister directly, spilling out her thoughts as she prepares to confront Layla and bring the secret out into the open. Nell’s inner dialogue with two boys, brothers who died within a year of each other, is convincing as a framework for Nell to process the truth, while her best friend, Felix, provides real-life emotional support. Along the way, readers are kept in suspense about Layla’s whereabouts, although the ending is somewhat anticlimactic. In the end, the story feels rather ordinary—as so much of life is.
Reinhardt’s skillful exploration of the dynamics of sibling relationships and truly inventive narrative structure shine a light on the ordinary struggle of growing up. (Fiction. 12-15)