After her expulsion from private school for an act of mental-illness–induced vandalism, Alex, 17, begins her senior year at an Indiana public school with trepidation.
Bright and determined to get to college, Alex counts on meds to control her paranoid schizophrenia even if they can’t entirely eliminate the hallucinations that have plagued her for a decade; she relies on her part-time table-waiting job to help keep her occupied. Long before they know her history, bullies at her new school target Alex, but she’s got allies, too—notably Tucker, a classmate and co-worker, as well as the small community of students at school who, like her, must compensate for past misdeeds by doing community service. They sell tickets and snacks, set up seating and provide support for school sporting events. Alex and the group’s charismatic but troubled, possibly autistic leader, Miles, share a mutual attraction that might date back to their strange encounter in a supermarket years earlier, when Alex decided to set a tankful of lobsters free. This debut’s talented author creates interesting characters and a suspenseful plot to draw readers in, but eventually the narrative loses traction and, ultimately, its raison d’être in a nihilistic denouement likely to leave readers feeling manipulated if not just plain cheated. Also troubling is the reliance on toxic stereotypes of mental illness to generate suspense.
An intriguing but ultimately misbegotten project. (Fiction. 14-18)