A friendless 17-year-old hard case meets a softhearted young man and his dying grandmother, and it may change her path.
Michelle despises her single mother, dislikes her school therapist, hates her classmates and loathes her convenience-store job. She’s unused to caring about the opinions of anyone until Nathaniel—a towering young man, as sweet as he is huge—comes to work at the store. Somehow Michelle finds herself wanting to live up to Nathaniel’s expectations. In an unreliable first-person narration that sacrifices clarity for metaphor (“Straight as a pine tree and just as scented, she gives me the stalker stare, eerie smile pulled like wet gum across her narrow cheeks”), Michelle fights with everyone but Nathaniel and his hospitalized grandmother. The grandmother sends Michelle on a literary scavenger hunt, which might have been fascinating if it were experienced rather than described peripherally. Meanwhile, Nathaniel convinces Michelle to adopt a subdued nonresponse in the face of her high school bullies. As Michelle mellows, it becomes increasingly clear that her life actually is tragic, and her sulky teen misanthropy is a reasonable reaction to a rotten life—a refreshing take.
Savell offers readers hope within grim realism, though the flights of lyricism can detract from it. (Fiction. 14-17)