The story takes place in contemporary Florida, nearly a year after five close friends are both the witnesses and unwitting participants to a catastrophic car accident that claimed one of their lives. The account is told entirely through the first-person point of view of 17-year-old Sadie Kingston, who was left disfiguringly scarred in the same incident that killed one of her best friends. Despite a year of corrective surgeries and therapy sessions Sadie’s psyche is stuck in a self-imposed exile, steeped in loss and blame and things left unsaid between those she once loved.
Leisurely paced and thoughtfully written, this intensely relational telling has a sort of teen soap-opera feel to it. It gently weaves together so many minute, seemingly innocuous decisions and their unforeseeable consequences. This book takes a hard look at grieving, in both its effective an ineffective forms—examines the intimacy that often comes from shared secrets and communal trauma. It also serves as a sort of quiet caution against the corrosive tactic of avoidance in conflict resolution
“No one talked about the questions, because talking ruined plausible deniability. Talking burst the bubble of innocence. Talking ended the happily ever after.
These were the truths they believed.
And they were lies.
They should have talked while there was still something to say.”
What I liked:
This book contains an exceptional number of meaningful and memorable quotes. Stevens is a wiz at stretching out her voice and pulling you in with attentive, impactful wording.
*"I fell, and it didn't kill me. So I decided that if I was going to fall, I might as well fall moving up."
*"Above me is a sky full of stars. In front of me is an ocean full of waves. Beneath me are a million grains of sand that used to be rock. That ocean I love so much beat rocks into sand. I'm afraid that's what I've done to you."
I LOVED the salvage yard scenes. The unique relationship Sadie formed with the yard’s endearingly cantankerous owner was one of the most profound and believable parts of the book, in this reader’s opinion. A close second was Sadie’s devoted and remarkably healthy relationship with her parents—a dynamic that’s almost a novelty in the young adult genre.
The author beautifully captures the essence of growing up with the beach as your stomping ground. The amount of detail put into the scenery and ocean-based activities was hugely enriching to the overall feel, and leant itself well to the overall authenticity.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
While I loved the idea of sprinkling in a number of Sadie’s emails to Max over the course of the year to demonstrate how their pen-pal-ish relationship grew, it was disappointing to not be allowed a look at any of Max’s written correspondence. A few pertinent things could be derived from the one-sided conversations readers are privy to, but it sat more like a lost opportunity to get to know Max.
On a related note, the romantic angle seemed a bit detached. Readers may have some trouble buying Max and Sadie’s chemistry once they do come together.
This reader was strongly impacted by the author’s debut book, Faking Normal, but was somewhat relieved to see her second work take on a slightly lighter tone. The telling carries along well enough for the first 30%, propelled by the visceral degree of Sadie’s social struggles and physical/emotional scarring—along with the anticipation of her finally seeing Max again in person after a year of forming deep and romantic interest via email. From there though, the momentum did some dragging.
The ‘big reveal’ comes in the form of two vaguely related secrets that certain members of the group have been keeping from each other—mainly, because they didn’t feel they were their secrets to share. But the seriousness of these two bits of information ultimately felt underwhelming; bordering on melodramatic. And the tension wasn’t much enhanced by finally learning which of Sadie’s friends had been sending her anonymous letters containing her own stolen diary-like quotes. In that way, this quote sums up the conflict succinctly: “Sometimes a small thing is bigger than a big thing.”
A solid pick for readers interested in stories about loss, forgiveness, emotional healing, tight-knit friendship groups, and the impermanent tenuousness of teenage romance.