First-novelist McCandless revisits—in loosely connected chapters—the cringe-making years of adolescent missteps and mistakes.
Narrator and Everygirl Emma Harris is about to enter sixth grade the summer her family move up from an apartment to a house in tony Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She’s soon best friends with neighbor Katrina, also a rising sixth grader. Katrina introduces her to the local landmarks—the department store, the ice-cream shop, and the drugstore—and helps her choose school clothes at the mall. The two are inseparable, but nothing lasts, especially in adolescence, and these tales are darker and more elegiac than the bouncy prose suggests. As Emma describes adjusting to middle school, being mortified by a popular boy, getting her first bra (embarrassingly ahead of the other girls) and her first period, her parents separate. Her father moves out; she and her mother have to find an apartment. Her friendship with Katrina, now more difficult to keep up, ruptures when a group of girls make insinuations about Katrina, and Emma, wanting to be popular, begins to ignore her. High school offers more challenges. Emma is attracted to Brian but insists on being friends because she fears losing those she loves. She loses her virginity to another boy. Emma and her friends go to parties where they drink too much and cross the river to nearby Canada with false IDs so they can drink in bars. A classmate commits suicide when rejected by Yale. The inevitable prom trauma—finding the dress and the date are equal chores—is followed by the almost anticlimactic graduation. At a reunion ten years later, Emma is drinking hard and Billy is still single. The drawings by comic-book illustrator Christine Norrie underline the numbingly familiar nature of these experiences; combined with McCandless’s shallow insights, they suggest the book would be more appropriately marketed as a YA title.
A dispiriting reminder that youth is wasted on the young.