In alternating narratives, two high school sophomores chronicle their private school’s nine-week wilderness experience: Introspective Sib gets a taste of dating a popular boy, and grief-stricken Lou begins to recover from her boyfriend’s death.
The semester begins just as a modeling gig brings Sib to the attention of the school’s most popular guy, Ben, leading to a lot of make-out sessions but little conversation. Dazzled and a bit puzzled by Ben’s attention, Sib is woefully unprepared to navigate the popular crowd’s dating rituals. Her missteps are used by her “best” friend, Holly, to raise her own meager social ranking, making her a consistent though predictable villain. Holly’s machinations are almost unfailingly met with Sib’s quick forgiveness, sapping their storyline of much of its potential punch. More engaging, however, is Lou’s grief and recovery, which is largely detailed through the tone of her observations of the social dramas unfolding around her, transforming from dismissive to engaged. Lou’s friendship with Sib’s friend Michael, an intellectual pining with unrequited love for Sib, injects the novel with believable sincerity and poignancy. Lou’s story also provides hints of interesting back story for secondary characters, especially her friends spending their own semester abroad. These moments when Wood allows her characters to deviate from what’s expected of them mark her as a writer to continue to watch.
A pleasant, promising, slightly uneven American debut. (Fiction. 14-18)