A year ago, Abby confessed her love to her best friend, Cooper—and it didn’t go well.
Abby tried to laugh it off. Each pretends it never happened, but Abby’s feelings are unchanged. She’s doubly blindsided when her other passion, art, hits a roadblock. Her paintings are rejected for inclusion in an art museum show, deemed technically proficient but lacking in heart. Determined to turn that around, and with family brainstorming support, she creates a to-do list of activities to deepen her emotional expression, enlisting Cooper’s intermittent participation. They watch a mountain sunrise, read books outside their comfort zones, audition for a musical, and more. Abby makes friends, including classmate and sculptor Elliot Garcia, and her work shows progress. Abby worries about her mother’s agoraphobia; it’s worsened during her father’s long deployments overseas, especially since the family moved off-base, away from supportive military families. A refreshing departure from teen-literature tropes, Abby’s no brainy polymath acing AP English (the book she chooses is A Tale of Two Cities) and destined for Stanford. However, plotting is shaky: subplots go nowhere; outcomes negate what came before. Cooper’s friendly, romantic disinterest in Abby feels very real—its explanation and resolution, less so. Most characters are white or appear so by default. Elliot Garcia has dark, curly hair and a Spanish last name but lacks ethnic assignment. Abby’s friends Rachel, who’s black, and Justin, who’s Latinx, are minor characters.
Abby’s likable, but her romantic passivity and hijacked artistic endeavors send a disempowering message. (Fiction. 12-16)