This account of a teen suicide-hotline volunteer is brimming with wry humor and whimsical charm, but as somber events unfold, that light tone feels uncomfortably inappropriate, as if it belongs to some other novel.
Last seen in The Opposite of Music (2007), the Morrison family has weathered father Bill’s mental breakdown. He’s painting again, confident he’s recovered, but Billy, 16, has doubts; he’s determined to prevent a repeat. Having immersed himself in psychology texts, Billy follows a friend’s suggestion to volunteer with the Listeners suicide hotline. Disappointingly, most callers prove merely lonely, bored, eccentric or sexually deviant. Then Jenney calls. Depressed, she’s dropped out of college; her therapist, Melinda, is guiding her to recover memories of parental abuse (readers will wonder if Melinda herself manufactured these). Jenney’s praise leads Billy to fantasize their future relationship and share his parental worries with her. Jenney herself never comes into focus; Billy’s character drives the story. He’s a case study in teen-psyche contradictions—self-centered and altruistic, grandiose and helpless—above all, agonizingly self-conscious. The Morrisons are vivid creations, though these sly, observant portraits may resonate better with adults than teens. Short chapters with enigmatic titles and abrupt, nonlinear shifts in storytelling combine to suggest a graphic novel missing its art. Young’s a talented original yet to find her niche.
Despite the clever characterizations, the title says it all. (Fiction. 12 & up)