Kids face every possible pitfall of modern adolescence as they go from eighth grade to senior year of high school in Mill Valley, California.
Johnson’s debut novel bristles with authentic detail of life in Marin County, where the author was born and raised. She knows the high school—“stuccoed Creamsicle-orange, generously windowed, and radiantly trimmed”; the parents: “rich hippies parading along the triangle of avenues, congratulating themselves for buying Priuses along with their Range Rovers and getting their overpriced organic oranges at Whole Foods”; the teachers: nothing they enjoy more than "laughing bitterly at their own poverty" or "the insanity of Mill Valley parents"; and the local version of each archetypal teenage clique. Here the stoners, for example, are the Bo-Stin beach kids, from the coastal towns of Bolinas and Stinson Beach, with “hair that waved to their waists or shaggy mops or dreads, cutoff shorts or ripped flared jeans and thrift-store tank tops.” Johnson knows exactly how they talk—“That’s just Nick. He’s always doing some cutty James Bond shit like that”; how they feel playing video games: “The head exploded and shot fireworks of blood and bone into the sky and for a minute he felt hella raw”; and how they address each other on social media: “omfg em r u ok I cant beleive this happened.” Perhaps this acutely observed novel would have been more successful if the author hadn't felt compelled to include all of the following scenarios: A boy bullied into jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge by social media taunts. A girl preyed on by a pedophile middle school teacher, exposed on Snapchat. A supersmart drug dealer charging a desperate Asian striver $700 to take his SAT. A beautiful girl everyone hates. A house party that ends in a car wreck sending kids to the hospital and juvie. And last but not least, a popular athlete lured over the internet into acting in pornographic gay films.
Hella effort but may not make bank.