while this book is most easily classified as a YA mystery/thriller, it’s not the mystery parts that stayed with me as a reader. the mystery plotline itself was actually a bit predictable to someone who’s read a lot of books in this genre, but that shouldn’t be grounds for dismissal if you’re on the fence about reading this, because there’s something else this book does really well, and it’s something i’ve never come across before in my YA reading, but it’s a pretty important, if subtle, aspect of teenage sexual development. SO MANY COMMAS, KAREN!
first things first – plot details that are not really spoilers, but you be the judge of your own sensitivity to knowing stuff: so, before the events of this book, alissa was one of the cool girls, which of course means the cool mean girls. and she wears all the right clothes, mocks all the right people, conforms to the cool-girl hive mind led by queen bee madison, even though she doesn’t feel comfortable in the outfits or with the pranks, one of which humiliates and drives away her childhood best friend nick. and then one day, while being tutored by mallpunk lana, who is definitely outside of the cool-girl circle; they find themselves unexpectedly drawn to each other, and they conduct a secret romantic relationship until madison and genny discover them kissing (ew, groooooooss, coooooties) which alissa passes off as an unwanted advance, preserving her own cool-girl status and causing lana to become the focus of much teen-bullying until she suddenly disappears and her body turns up murdered months later.
time passes (18 months!), and alissa meets hannah, and she falls for her hard. hard enough that she overcomes the fears that hindered her first relationship and comes out to her parents and her peers, causing her eviction from the cool girl circle, but she’s so in love (and so much more comfortable in her hoodies n’ jeans), it’s no price at all to pay. even nick comes back into her life, glad that mean-alissa is gone, and ready to be friends again, while also clearly hoping for more.
and then, hannah disappears, just like lana. and alissa begins getting threatening notes, casting the blame for hannah’s abduction on alissa and setting her on a dangerous path of investigation and self-examination.
it’s a cat-and-mouse manipulation game, with both action and psychological suspense, and even though it’s a little predictable, it’s still a satisfying ride.
but what’s great about this book is the contrast between alissa’s two relationships: how they are described and how alissa feels about them during and after.
usually in YgAy lit, it would be ‘girl meets girl and it’s true love forever and who cares if homophobes oppose us because LOOOOOVE!!’
and that’s fine and cheesily romantic, but it’s not super-realistic. the treatment here is much better because while there’s mutual attraction between lana and alissa, it’s not love. with lana, alissa experiences the thrills of novelty, curiosity, experimentation, and the additional appeal of secrecy, but true love rarely strikes your first time out, and the clichéd scenario so frequently trotted out in various entertainments of “we are the only two lesbians in the script so obvs. we are in love” is as silly as dana’s despised “gay for you” scenario. this one rings truer – lana was alissa’s formative relationship, attractive because it felt “right” on some level, but they didn’t have enough in common for it to be love, nor to be worth the risk to alissa’s social status to make public. but with hannah, alissa not only had confirmation that her attraction to girls was more than just a one-off, but more importantly, in hannah she found the emotional connection that was lacking with lana that made the risk of coming out worth it.
and while that’s not the central focus of the book, it’s an aspect i really appreciated. it’s not something i’ve encountered before in a coming out/coming-of-age story; the opportunity and perspective to compare two relationships and their effect on the emotional development of a character, even though this situation was complicated by murrrrderrr. it’s an obvious point that it takes more than just two lesbians being in the same room to sustain a healthy relationship, but YA romance (of all orientations) tends to be focused on a single relationship with immediate payoff, without the long(er)-term perspective tracing a character’s romantic development.
and that alone is well worth the price of admission.
also, i want to know what this fizzy blue raspberry cocktail is and how to make it for myself.