Bearing scars both literal and figurative, Jenna Lord, 16, falls for Mitch Anderson, the married chemistry teacher who helps her survive a rocky start at a Wisconsin science magnet school.
Years earlier, Jenna was maimed in a house fire. Today she copes with stress by e-mailing her beloved brother, a Marine in Iraq, and by self-mutilation, which recently earned her a stint in a hospital psychiatric ward. Isolated, with a domineering, plastic-surgeon dad and alcoholic, bookstore-owner mom, Jenna’s increasingly smitten with Mitch, who goes out of his way to advocate for her and invite her into his life. Jenna’s voice is edgily authentic, but other characters seem to consist entirely of symptoms—case studies in uncontrolled violence, rape, self-mutilation, victim-grooming and sexual and substance abuse. The one exception, a refreshingly normal classmate and potential boyfriend, is soon left behind. The framing conceit (Jenna dictates her story to a detective who has given her a digital recorder) is distancing. Readers will easily unravel the tired, central plot twist, but they may be confused when Jenna morphs abruptly, without explanation, from a teenager under surveillance—lacking cell phone, driver’s license, privacy—into a free spirit enjoying all of the above.
Readers will find a more challenging, original take on abuse, abusers and recovery in Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (2008). (Fiction. 15 & up)