In Steadman’s (The Waking Dream, 2016, etc.) third YA novel, a high school nobody encounters the harsh reality of what it means to become somebody.
Annie Julia Grey (who doesn’t like to be called “Annie,” preferring “Ann”) is a high school student who spends a lot of time in detention with her troublemaking best friend, Lisa. A year ago, Ann’s father died in an accident, her mother became an alcoholic, and her brother, William, left for college with no intention of ever coming back home. Ann often finds herself alone, saddled with responsibilities her mother used to shoulder: cooking, cleaning, and caring for her younger brother, Tommy. At school, she pines for Jacob Waters, who also happens to be “the hottest senior in school.” Meanwhile, her eccentric (and handsome) classmate Danny Feller, who readers later learn is the book’s narrator, has feelings for her. After a few passed notes, Ann and Danny discover their mutual interest in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden—a book that William once owned. Ann desperately combs through the book “in hopes of discovering why he never came home.” However, as soon as Ann starts to fall for Danny, Jacob breaks up with his own girlfriend and—much to Ann’s surprise—begins aggressively pursuing her. Almost overnight, she goes from feeling invisible to becoming a member of the “Totally Fabulous and Popular clique,” otherwise known as the “T.F.P.” The book is an immersive experience, and it reads very much like a novel-length note from a friend in one’s class—complete with hand-drawn comic strips interspersed throughout. Not unlike a note written by a teenager, the prose is prone to hyperbole, and there are places in which the teenage voice feels exaggerated: “At this particular moment, Ann Julia Grey was in denial about Danny Feller’s obvious magnificence. (Tragic sigh.)” Overall, however, Steadman captures the mania of teenage friendships and first loves as aptly as she captures the confusion of adolescent grief.
A read that honors the devastation of loss and self-discovery from a distinctively adolescent perspective.