A psychodrama about tangled families never quite gets off the ground.
Willa’s life swerves into the headlines when her biological father kills his present wife and two of their children before disappearing. Willa’s blended family has provided her with wealthy stepsisters—thanks to their jet-setting mother—along with a stepfather. The disparity between the luxury that Alyssa and Brooke regard as their due and Willa’s own limited means suddenly seems like just the tip of their differences as Willa discovers more about her mother’s first husband and her estranged family in the sudden glare of the media spotlight. Willa’s preferred method of dealing with anger and fear is to cut herself, letting physical pain mask her emotional hurt. Suddenly she needs to know more about her past and this frightening man who is her actual father, and her insistence on this upsets her entire extended family. With a determination Willa hasn’t shown before, she returns to the small town she left behind at the age of four. The influence of money in decision making is explored, along with odd legalities about inheritance in a bizarre situation. Unfortunately, the ethical question of whether to accept a benefit from a major crime is more interesting than much of this lurid plot. Willa is supposedly a quiet, accepting 16-year-old, but she never acts that way after the first few pages.Intriguing topics and situations can’t quite breathe life into these somewhat flat characters. (Fiction. 12 & up)