Competition drives a young woman who falls into an intense relationship with her nemesis at their moneyed private school.
As the school year comes to a close, intelligent, uncompromising Nell, the highly pressured daughter of the first female head of school at Cedar Woods Prep, contends with anxiety attacks as she juggles a demanding academic schedule with volleyball, where she strives to be the best player despite her teammate and best friend Lia’s love for the game. Wealthy Jackson is her closest rival for valedictorian, and his careless, calculated charm galls her to her core. Class dynamics, family dysfunction, and, especially, gender disparity are intricately explored in this complicated, engrossing novel. Though readers will see the explosive romance that develops between Nell and Jackson coming a long way off, its obsessive nature is nevertheless startling, and the depiction of the way her sexual assertiveness is eventually played against her is heartbreakingly real. As the author mentions in an endnote that also includes a list of websites that provide mental health information, Nell is not always likable, which will distance some readers. However, hers is an experience that will resonate strongly with others. Nell, Jackson, Lia, and her brother are white; there are secondary characters who are black, Asian, and Latino.
An unrelenting, incisive look at one young woman’s highly pressurized world. (Fiction. 14-18)