Unrequited love and family tragedy destroy Matt and Raychel’s friendship.
Raychel’s childhood friendship with Matt slowly evolves until by their senior year, she’s been nearly adopted by his family. But Matt’s narration reveals that he already considers Raychel “his girl” and believes that declaring his feelings will inevitably lead to romance. However, he’s also clearly bothered by Raychel’s drinking, party hookups, and acceptance that she may have to attend an inexpensive local college rather than one near his own first choice. Soon his interactions with her seem almost Pygmalion-esque. Raychel senses that Matt’s attitude of superiority sometimes stems from his wealthy, white background, whereas she’s “poor white trash from the Delta,” so it’s not entirely surprising when his less-judgmental younger brother, Andrew, ends up successfully romancing Raychel. Her relationship with both brothers is derailed when they misinterpret white classmate Carson’s sexual assault of Raychel at a party as consensual. Over the course of the novel, Raychel’s interactions with Carson raise important questions about what it means to consent to sexual activity, though the provided answers lack nuance. In similar fashion, the exploration of race posed by Indian-American friend Asha’s romance with African-American Spencer doesn’t go as far as it could. Eventually a buildup of communication breakdowns leads to tragedy.
The novel introduces many complicated topics—from sexual assault to issues of class and race—but fails to address them thoroughly. (Fiction. 14-18)