In Knudsen’s debut young-adult novel, a teen unhappily uprooted to a small Maine community forms fateful new relationships with a rich “bad girl” and a boy stricken with a chronic malady.
Knudsen blazes no fresh trails in this bittersweet drama, but its engaging, nongimmicky realism is a throwback to the days when YA fiction wasn’t overrun with lovesick werewolves, mermaids or other fantastical figures. Following the death of her father via a drunk driver, Willow Ann Flynn relocates with her widowed mother from small-town Massachusetts to Pike’s Island, Maine, a tiny dot in a bay near Portland. It’s the “middle of nowhere” that the title references. Here, 16-year-old Willow has to ride a ferry just to get to school; social media and text-messaging are essential to communicating with scattered peers. It isn’t long before she runs afoul of the school’s resident beauty, the haughty, wealthy Tessa Anderson. Soon, however, Willow is befriended by the mean girl and welcomed into Tessa’s rarefied clique of sexually active, hard-partying jocks and trouble-prone kids left unsupervised by their rich parents. On the side, Willow receives poetic, romantic notes from Michael Cooper, a pale, would-be suitor whose mysterious comings and goings are not, it turns out, evidence of vampirism. She also learns that her mother has taken a new boyfriend and possible fiancé, a former school principal; this interloper, however, may not be what he seems. In the hands of a lesser author, these travails might crowd in on each other, but Knudsen keeps the subplots in their proper place with a steady beat and the heroine’s sympathetic first-person voice. Although teen angst and the fish-out-of-water theme are familiar tropes, the book’s muted emotional climaxes and life-goes-on conclusion make for a wise, occasionally compelling coming-of-age tale.
Nothing spectacular, but this well-modulated teen material is rendered with perceptive restraint.