Myrick’s debut novel follows several teenagers at two Virginia high schools as they find their paths.
The book opens at Hilltop Academy, a private school populated by the children of faculty at two nearby colleges. Chelsea silently critiques school policies (“So what’s inside my backpack is important, but not what’s inside me?”) and her clique-y classmates. She also connects with recent California transplant Sean, who, like her, is struggling to find his place. Sean organizes a nature walk in response to the suicide of a bullied student. Then he persuades his parents to let him transfer to the less-exclusive Stone Creek High School, where he joins Chelsea’s friends Cora, a politically active organizer exploring her biracial heritage; Jake, who wants to follow his father into agriculture despite the challenges faced by small farmers; and the gregarious Daniel, whose nickname is “Mr. Mayor.” Stone Creek’s unconventional principal, Mr. Shepherd, answers to the name “Chief” and encourages student autonomy. The book’s narration shifts among the various students as they deal with personal and academic challenges and make their ways toward graduation. Myrick is a thoughtful writer who gets deep into her characters’ psyches. That said, the teenagers’ self-centered, pseudo-intellectual voices are so accurately portrayed as to be grating at times (as when Sean describes Hilltop Academy to Daniel’s mother: “we were the fish, kept apart from the real world of natural waters, glubbing around in circles, until we almost believed it was normal”). However, the author seems determined to give full weight to her young characters’ arguments, no matter how petty they might appear to adults. This is demonstrated by how she uses the character of Chief, who repeatedly learns from the kids under his charge.
A well-written, if occasionally ponderous, exploration of modern high school life.