A teen tries to pick up the pieces after devastating loss.
Jess Perez burns hot. Having the courage at a young age to come out to herself and others as “queer, overly sensitive, overly prone to fists,” Jess anticipates the start of her sophomore year with some trepidation, having to negotiate what she perceives as a threatening environment without the aid of the therapist who’d been helping her process her military father’s death in Afghanistan three years before. But the horizon suddenly brightens when Jess meets Vivi Bouchard—smart, curvy, confident, and gay; the two are instantly attracted and soon become girlfriends. Vivi encourages Jess to develop her copious talents as a visual artist and helps her manage her, at times, uncontrollable anger, seeing Jess how she wishes to be seen: “Interesting. Artistic. Something more than a middle-class, if that, suburban girl”—and they plan for their future at college together. Jess’ world is rocked when Vivi unexpectedly dies, sending her spiraling into grief and rage as she rails against her new persona as “the queer girl with the dead girlfriend.” Told in alternating “then” and “now” chapters, the moving narrative captures well the nonlinear progression of Jess’ grief and emotional growth. The book follows a white default although there is diversity across several dimensions in secondary characters; Jess’ father was half Mexican and (presumably) half white.
Frank and accessible, this gritty drama realizes with great compassion and empathy the ways reckoning with loss can manifest. (Fiction. 14-18)