Incarcerated five years ago for sending a photo of a classmate in character underwear to all of his friends—resulting in the boy’s suicide—18-year-old Kenny has since been on the move with his family, seeking anonymity.
Starting his senior year at a new school with an assumed name, Dan, he immediately gets himself in trouble when he stops a bully from beating up perennial victim Brandon. He is horrified to realize that pretty senior Julie was watching but didn’t help. Dan is attracted to Julie but angered by her unwillingness to come to Brandon’s aid as the bullying continues unabated. Their bumpy relationship is plagued by their inability to resolve that basic issue. Good Samaritanism comes up repeatedly in a public-speaking class they share, always causing more strife. Coincidences—or hints—abound: Julie’s bullied half brother committed suicide five years ago, and her last name is the same as Dan/Kenny’s victim. Dan also struggles with guilt, as evidenced by a sarcastic alter-ego voice in his head, “Kenny,” with whom he shares sometimes-confusing conversations, in which Kenny speaks in italics: “Oh, man, this is hilarious, Kenny said. I shot him a glare.” Dan’s likable first-person voice rings with authenticity, but the improbably contrived, slow-moving plot undermines this debut.
Though predictable, this offering may be relevant for those looking for more books on the ever-important topic of bullying. (Fiction. 12 & up)