When Carolyn Lessing moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the juniors at Adams High. Gorgeous, stylish, a great student and gifted athlete without a mean girl bone in her body Carolyn is gobbled up right away by the school's cliques. She even begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn's bitter romantic rival. When a make-out video of Carolyn and Shane makes the rounds, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut in an instant, with Brooke and her best friend responsible for the campaign. Carolyn is hounded and focused on, and becomes more and more private. Questions about her family and her habits torture her. But a violent confrontation with Shane and Brooke in the student parking lot is the last attack Carolyn can take. A novel to drop us all back into the intensity of our high school years, WEIGHTLESS is a startling and assured debut. Sarah Bannan's deft use of the first person plural gives Weightless an emotional intensity and remarkable power that will send you flying through the pages and leave you reeling.
WEIGHTLESS is unlike any bullying book I've ever read before. The perspective is not from the victim or the perpetrator but rather a first-person plural outsider. The story of Carolyn Lessing, a new girl in a rural Alabama town, is told through the eyes of the observers, the ones who don't truly know what's going on. At first it was a hard narration to get into, but the longer I read, the more I appreciated this truly unique way of looking at a situation that's far too common in high schools today.
While the book is quiet in terms of plot or action, there's an underlying current of tension to the story. The reader knows something is going to happen, someone is going to break, but you don't know how or when. This tension drives the story.
The novel is also thought-provoking. I found myself constantly questioning how I would've reacted in the same situation, which is what makes the novel so relatable. We're often the observers, not at the center of things, in life and this novel shows that how we react and what we say can have consequences that reach much further than we could ever anticipate.
The Final Verdict:
Authentic, moving, and utterly gripping, WEIGHTLESS is a realistic look at what it's like to be both on the outside and a participant in a tense, emotional, and ultimately tragic situation.
The plot of Weightless is slow at first. There is a great deal of exposition and concentration on football, church, and pep rallys. While this does show the obsessions not only of the teens, but of the town as a whole, it is also rather dull. We catch glimpses of Carolyn at these events and must piece together stolen moments. Through each event, our narrator is constantly commenting on how skinny or fat each person is and what they are wearing. As I said earlier, it speaks to the mentality of these girls, but it gets tedious. The plot unwinds very slowly and requires a patient reader. It is pretty clear from the beginning where this plot will end, however knowing it is coming doesn't make it any less heartbreaking.
Bannan has created a frightening view of teenage life today. It shows how the intrusion of social media into our lives has made it nearly impossible to escape the bullies. When this is added to a town obsessed with religion and sports, where "boys will be boys" and teens present a perfect image to their parents and something completely different to their peers, it is a terrifying mix. In the end, the most disturbing thing was the justification of our narrator. The teens insisted that they had done nothing wrong, that Carolyn deserved what happened to her for being stuck up and an outsider. That nothing she had experienced was different from what every other girl went through (a thought terrifying in its own right). We know, from the narration, that the girls recognize their role, deep down, but as we all know, it is incredible what you can convince yourself of if you repeat it often enough.
Bottom Line: Weightless requires a patient reader, one that is able to sift through the day to day banalities in order to see what is truly happening beneath the surface. Those who can accomplish this will be treated to a disturbing (and fascinating) view of how many teens today treat one another and the danger of a society where image is everything, "good girls" are held on a pedestal and "boys will be boys".