After the death of a friend, a teenage boy struggles to move on and open himself up to others in this debut novel.
High school junior Joel Higgins volunteers at a soup kitchen every Wednesday, in part to fulfill his community service requirement and in part to spend time with Eli, the girl he’s loved since seventh grade. Unlike Joel, Eli believes in God—and also that she can fix anything if she tries hard enough. Instead of telling Eli or anyone else about his feelings, Joel writes—but doesn’t send—text messages on his phone to Eli; his best friend, Andy, who died of leukemia last year; and their school’s principal. Through his messages, Joel declares his love and struggles for solutions to the problems that weigh on him. When he meets Rooster, a homeless veteran with PTSD, Joel’s obsession with helping him leads him down an irreversible path of progressively greater challenges. Written in first person interspersed with a series of text messages, Joel’s distinctive voice gives personality to the narration. Reilly delves into themes of poverty, mental illness, religion, censorship, and safe spaces. More than once, while holding a gun, Joel contemplates death. Despite the tough topics, the resolution leaves room for hope and growth. Main characters are white, and the book follows a white default.
A high-interest read for its exploration of complex topics without simple answers. (Fiction. 14-17)