This is a book about a teenager who cuts herself. To be honest, if I had known that was what this book was about, I would not have read it. I prefer to take an ostrich-like approach to such matters.
Willa Coffey seems to be leading a nice, normal life, but it isn’t long until you come to understand the circumstances that lead to her self-mutilation. She is part of a blended stepfamily that regularly congratulates itself on how happy they all are. But they are only happy on the surface, and the pressure to maintain that Potemkin façade just adds stress to each of their lives. Or, at least, to all of them except Willa’s stepdad, Jack, who is a nice guy but unwittingly makes everything worse by his refusal to acknowledge reality.
Willa’s stepsisters, Brooke and Alyssa, have a wealthy mom who buys them everything. Neither Willa’s mom Terri nor stepfather Jack can afford to do the same for Willa, so Willa is often left on the sidelines. Worse still, Terri and Willa are regularly recruited to accompany Brooke and Alyssa to their various lessons, competitions, and other activities, while listening supportively to their stories of international travels. Still, all simmers below ground until Terri’s ex-husband “Budge” murders his current wife and three little girls back in Texas, and is rumored to be heading to Pennsylvania to go after Terri and Willa.
Discussion: There are two rather awful story lines in this book. On the one hand, you have Willa dealing with stress in her life by cutting herself, because, inter alia, she fears if she vocalizes her discontent, Jack may not want her anymore. On the other, you have the gruesome mass murder of a woman and little children by a crazed man who is unfortunately Willa’s direct blood relation. How is Willa supposed to cope with all this?
Evaluation: This book broaches important topics that are well-treated, but it is not for the faint of heart. Pfeffer is to be commended for tackling these issues, and for giving us the perspective of a teenager who is directly involved. But truthfully, if I read this review on another blog, I would comment something like, “Sounds important, but I’m glad you read it so I didn’t have to!”
Published by Harcourt Children’s Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2011