Traumatized Alice and Manny find love and healing with each other.
Alice Nightingale, age 15, was sexually assaulted at 12, a story which emerges in pieces over the course of the book. Due to resultant brain injury, Alice is stuck in “twelveness” though she questions the doctors’ prognosis. Alice’s thoughts are presented without capitalization and often as beautiful, fragmented poetry, giving her character a unique voice. The Nightingales are poor, but Alice is content with her faithful dog, caring for her ailing grandmother, and spending time with her loving brother, Joey. Endearing, sweet 16-year-old Manny James, the book’s second voice, is a black immigrant from Sierra Leone who sees Alice (“her hair was red as fire and her skin was pale as bone”) while running one night. Thus begins a disappointing pattern of fetishizing Alice’s long hair and paleness. As a former child soldier, Manny has suffered trauma too painful to recall, just like Alice, and though they find solace and healing in each other, it seems unlikely that traumatized Alice could “shed [her] twelveness like a skin” by having sex. It’s a shame that such lush writing and solid character development in a book that explores important themes like trauma, healing, bullying, and classism is marred by a tired trope and a random, rather unbelievable ending that includes Alice’s seemingly sudden cure.
A flawed but beautiful and tragic story of hope. (Fiction. 14-adult)