Siblings Ray and Brielle are enthralled when they encounter older, daring misfit Cullen, who attends the same private Catholic school as Ray.
High school sophomore Brielle drifts complacently in the wake of her popular, cookie-cutter friends, while her younger brother, Ray, is brutally bullied at St. John’s, their psychiatrist father’s alma mater. Ray endures this abuse in believable silence, hiding it from his family, especially his chronically depressed mother. It seems likely her illness contributes to his own despairing thoughts, which are underpinned with religious doubt. Told in alternating narrative style by the three teens, this provocative, unsettling story set in the suburbs of New York City in the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks plumbs the depths of Ray’s disillusionment as he prevails upon Cullen to help him participate, along with his only friend, caring, self-possessed Amir, in increasingly dangerous criminal acts. Meanwhile, the magnetic romance and sexual experiences Brielle has with Cullen provide a way for her to challenge her parents’ conflict avoidance. Cullen’s home life is also explored, though his buoyant, unflappable exterior plays a bit too heavily into a diamond-in-the-rough stereotype at times. All of the major characters are white except for Amir, whose family is from Saudi Arabia.
A gripping, tragic debut novel that will fascinate and trouble sophisticated teen readers. (Fiction. 14-18)