In an epistolary first novel about the process of grieving, a 15-year-old girl writes letters to the younger sister whose death she feels responsible for.
First-timer Beard hangs his story on the coincidence that Tess’s three-year-old half-sister Zoe was killed in a car accident in the Pittsburgh area just as thousands were dying on September 11, 2001. Tess, who describes herself as a mediocre student who wears lots of makeup, had been watching Zoe but left her alone in the front yard for a few minutes to watch the news on television. Now she is racked with guilt. Although readers may consider Tess’s relationship with her parents more loving and healthy than most, she feels increasingly disconnected from her beautiful, grief-stricken mother and educated, hard-working stepfather, David. She resents being excluded from their anguish and is particularly uncomfortable around David despite his obvious caring sensitivity. She claims she feels a stronger connection to her birth father, with whom she has never lived and whom she knows is a loser drifting from job to job. She draws closer to her other half-sister, Emily, a precocious first-grader who depends on her support; but after Tess discovers that her mother has been flirting with another man to relieve her own sorrow, Tess leaves her middle-class home to stay with her birth father in his run-down neighborhood. There, she becomes involved with Jimmy, the pot-smoking “bad boy” next door, and realizes her father is a small-time dealer. Though undisciplined and shady, Jimmy and her father are nothing if not protective and sensitive where she’s concerned. Smoking dope and carrying on with Jimmy, she begins to enjoy herself, until a series of events on the eve of her 16th birthday causes her repressed grief to bubble over.
Earnest and sensitive—to a fault.