Secrets, a renewable resource in tales of suspense, fuel this one.
After eighth-graders and best friends Katie and Nate have been shunned by their peers (readers never learn why, and perhaps there is no reason), they find solace in the friendship of their new classmate, Renata. When Chase, a bully from an influential family, and his followers target tiny Renata, the allies hatch a desperate plan to end her victimization. Readers meet the three as juvenile detainees awaiting judgment for kidnapping Chase. The tale unfolds in journal entries (Katie and Nate write; artist Renata draws hers) and partly through the third-person perspective of their sympathetic social worker. Each child is withholding crucial information, and uncovering these secrets takes the entire book. The experienced author manages her complicated plot deftly, but she artificially postpones promised revelations. The longer Willey holds out on readers, the higher their expectations for the payoff. The secrets are indeed big, but their revelation in the final pages feels rushed, leaving readers with unanswered questions. Though bullying is all too common, young readers won’t easily identify with these quirky characters. In this page turner, the needs of the plot eclipse realism, warping the presentation of an overworked juvie system, client confidentiality, and a touted LGBTQ element that offers little context.
Ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful. (Suspense. 12 & up)