Teen girl troubles in the drug-addled suburbs of St. Louis.
Embree’s debut has roots in the punk-lit underground—drugs, disaffection, sex, violence and freakiness abound—but the weird innocence of its teen narrator makes it read like an uncensored YA novel. Angie is a fat, working class 16-year-old flirting with an eating disorder as she makes her way through adolescent terrors of identity and sexuality ratcheted up by drugs, isolation and violence. Her mother’s spoiled boyfriend has just moved in, and Angie’s best friend Shelby has declared she’s a lesbian. Angie and Shelby are relatively good kids committed to school, but when Shelby finds a girlfriend, Angie gets into trouble, alternately helped and hurt by her other friends. Embree assembles quite a cast: Heather, a sexy, one-breasted rich girl; Inez, the high school pot-head/dealer and guerilla performance artist; Carrie, a rich-girl anorexic with lesbian tendencies; Pike, a near-homeless teen dropout and sensitive artist; Troy and Mindy, two sexually sadistic rich kids; glamorous working-class Luann and her crystal-meth smoking hippie parents; and, most memorably, Shelby’s older sister Robyn, a tough-as-nails survivor who thrives on psychotic rage and deserves her own novel. Unfortunately, many of these characters remain mere sketches, as mysterious to the reader as they are to themselves. And while Embree casts a sharp eye on the complex lines of class and gender divisions (race is notably absent) that fuel the novel’s episodic violence, and raises fascinating questions about guilt and revenge, she allows Angie only a handful of insightful moments that are so moving and true, the reader can’t help but feel their absence elsewhere. There is the beginning of a much better book here, but readers who identify with the characters’ outsider status, or are drawn into the action as it rockets toward a climactic scene of Robyn-orchestrated retribution, probably won’t care.
Sure to be shoplifted by teen delinquents, but also has a shot at adult cult status.