An accident at a Sweet 16 party triggers a series of traumatic events that threatens to shatter a family.
Hannah Sanders is finally one of the cool girls at San Francisco’s elite Hillcrest Academy, where she’s a sophomore. But everything could change if her 16th birthday party isn’t legendary, and the way her uptight mother, Kim, is behaving, it seems like it’s going to be the kind of staid sleepover better suited for tweens than a 16-year-old desperate to hold on to her newly acquired social status. Told no booze, drugs, or boys, Hannah and her friends—queen bees Ronni and Lauren, along with two girls from her anonymous days, Caitlin and Marta—sneak in all three, with disastrous consequences. As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, which is exactly what happens to drunken Ronni when she goes crashing through the coffee table in the middle of the night. Harding (Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis, 2010, etc.) fragments the story, going backward and forward in time in an attempt to stir up more tension than actually exists, both surrounding the accident and in the Sanders’ lives, particularly the shiny-on-the-outside, rotting-on-the-inside marriage of Kim and Jeff. They’re sued for a ridiculous sum by Ronni’s mother, Lisa, which triggers a predictable pile of skeletons to come tumbling out of the marital closet, while Hannah must try to deal with the wrong kind of attention at school as she decides whether to stick with her new friends or stand up for the bullied, disfigured Ronni.
The domestic drama is done well, even if it’s nothing new, but the cruelty of adolescence is painted with too broad a brush to be wholly convincing.