A teenaged girl comes to terms with her grief over the random murder of the boy she loves.
Millstone Academy senior Matt is the local golden boy: not only smart and talented but also wise and sensitive beyond his years. He goes to Mexico over spring vacation planning to break up with his troubled, drug-abusing quasi-girlfriend so that he and Alice, his soulmate since kindergarten, can finally commit to their true love. Instead, he disappears, and the authorities later find his bones in a mass grave. Back in New Jersey, Alice is distraught. So is everyone else at Millstone who knew Matt. The boy’s mother is a reformed alcoholic who had a brief romance with Alice’s otherwise caring father after her husband left her for a pregnant student; Matt knew about the affair but protected Alice from it. He confided other things he couldn’t tell Alice to Ms. Hardwood, a teacher now in a committed gay relationship who was engaged to Alice’s uncle before he died in Vietnam. Alice’s classmates at Millstone include fatherless Morgan, a geek with a future who’s in love with her, and motherless Sigrid, who witnessed the murder of a beloved babysitter years ago. When Alice chooses as her senior project to teach writing to inmates at Rahway Prison she ends up instructing the very man who killed Sigrid’s babysitter. Despite a multitude of subplots and meanderings, the heart of the story lies in its juxtaposition of Sigrid’s and Alice’s reactions to the two murders and how they resolve issues of evil, responsibility, forgiveness, and revenge.
Second-novelist Moynahan (Parting Is All We Know of Heaven, 1989) has a wonderful ear for how kids talk and think, but her tearjerker with a veiled spiritual message suffers from a surfeit of sensitive and caring characters sharing their earnest, profound thoughts.