In her fifth novel, Shaw tackles friendship, trust, and difference.
Sixteen-year-old Frederick, a white boy with Asperger’s, is regularly bullied by the “Despisers.” Loathing doctors’ labels and finding the majority of social interactions more difficult than they are rewarding, Frederick prefers a life of solitude. But then Angel Martinez, a “moderately” fat Latina who is “different from most girls,” pushes her way into Frederick’s life, becoming his friend and turning his world upside down. After an alcohol-infused night of misplaced trust, Angel wakes up in a field unsure how she got there and what may have happened to her. Ashamed and self-blaming, she manipulates Frederick into keeping her plan to run away a secret, but when Angel is officially reported missing, Frederick must decide whether to share what he knows or keep his titular promise and “don’t tell, don’t tell, don’t tell.” A speedy conclusion feels abrupt and leaves questions about the consequences of their actions dangling. Frederick narrates the first half of the book, and Angel the second. While both voices feel forced at times, Angel’s falls flat, and beyond her self-loathing and weight, it is unclear who she really is. Problematic tropes, including the unexplored conflation of disability with asexuality, are disappointingly present.
While the book’s not a total miss, better mystery and better representation can be found elsewhere. (Fiction. 14-18)