Sydney Stanford, 17, has always been overshadowed by her older brother Peyton. But Peyton has just been sent to prison for a drunk driving accident in which the young boy Peyton hit, David Ibarra, became paralyzed. To Sydney’s horror, her mother Julie is more focussed on the effect on Peyton than the fate of his victim. Sydney does have a father, but he is pretty much without impact in this story; he just does what his wife tells him to do, and doesn’t interfere. Sydney feels as if she has to shoulder the guilt for all of them if they won’t feel any themselves. Moreover, Sydney thinks that neither parent has ever paid much attention to her rather than Peyton; she pretty much feels invisible.
Peyton’s BFF Ames keeps coming around even after Peyton is gone, encouraged by Julie, who doesn’t seem to have any awareness of the creepy way Ames acts around Sydney. Before Sydney knows it, Ames is even living in their house, in Peyton’s old room. Ames is one of those interesting “mirror” characters, inserted primarily, it seems, to illuminate the ways in which other characters react, or don’t react, to him.
Sydney’s mother is getting more and more manic over trying to orchestrate Peyton’s prison time, and simultaneously endeavors to ensure that Sydney (who has always been a “good girl”) doesn’t meet the same fate. Julie appears to have no idea who Sydney actually is, but only judges her by Peyton’s actions.
Meanwhile, Sydney has transferred from private school to public school, in part because the expenses of defending Peyton were so high, and in part just to avoid all the stares and comments. At the public school, she meets a new friend, Layla Chatham, and she is immediately adopted by Layla’s family and friends. They treat her with acceptance and warmth; have open discussions about themselves and their problems rather than pretending everything is perfect; and most importantly for Sydney, they notice her for herself. The security this brings Sydney enables her to blossom, and feel significant just for being Sydney, rather than for being Peyton’s sister.
Evaluation: This is a good story, and different from many YA books in that a variety of issues addressed were not subject to any omniscient narration: it is up to the reader to draw conclusions. What is one to think of Julie’s uber-helicopter parenting, for example? What about the drinking behavior of some of the characters? What role does Sydney’s dad play in all that happened? Why does Layla, coming from such a warm and loving family, still seem to pick the wrong guy on a repeated basis? How does any young female recognize and distinguish between desirable attention versus unwanted attention? All of these issues are left “open” and will make excellent discussion topics.
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2015