Divorce, blackmail, love and murder collide in this complicated young-adult novel.
Caught in the middle of her parents’ messy split, 14-year-old Kate finds friendship and, eventually, her first love in charming, streetwise Lucky, who also comes from a broken family. Apart from Lucky, there is no safe haven for Kate, not even at Glenwood Junior High, where she becomes the target of violent sexual advances by Randy Johnson, a mentally disabled student whose behavior is inexplicably ignored by the school principal, and whose state-appointed lawyer seems more concerned with the intricacies of federal law than the well-being of either student. The principal, it turns out, is in league with a greedy real estate developer—who also happens to be the new boyfriend of Kate’s mother—and a complex plot emerges that involves corrupt public officials, blackmail and a shady land deal. While these nefarious bureaucratic doings may have been compelling in Keech’s first novel, The Crawlspace Conspiracy (1995), the subject matter is a reach for teen readers. The other prominent plotlines, unfortunately, also prove to be problematic. The characterization of Johnson, described by Kate as a “love-struck retard” and “jittery cretin” and vilified as a sex-hungry “moron” who “couldn’t even count to ten,” is at best an attempt to discuss stereotypes, but more often outright offensive. When Johnson is found shot to death near the school, the novel veers into a murder mystery that involves Kate and Lucky searching for Johnson’s supposed killer while falling under suspicion themselves. Add to the mix a teen pregnancy, accusations of incest, attempted suicide and neglectful parents who act more adolescent then their own teenagers, and there’s no shortage of drama and intrigue. What the novel is missing are authentic characters whose actions ring true.
This coming-of-age novel strives for maximum drama but stretches credibility.