Jessie Holmes, 16, has just moved from Chicago to California and started as a junior at an exclusive high school school. It has been 733 days since her mom died, 45 days since her dad eloped with a stranger he met on the Internet, and 30 days since they then moved to California and into the home of her new stepfamily. Jessie feels lost and confused and alone, and misses her BFF Scarlett from Chicago. Her new stepbrother Theo is her age, but seems to resent her as much as she resents him.
Everything changes when Jessie gets an anonymous email from ”Somebody Nobody” who tells Jessie she intrigues him because she seems different from the “wasteland of mostly blond, vacant-eyed Barbies and Kens” at the high school. He writes: “you make me want to know what goes on in that head of yours.” He also offers his “expertise” as a “virtual spirit guide” in “navigating the wilds of Wood Valley High School.”
Jessie is both beguiled and gratified because, as she admits to S/N: “You’re right. This place is a war zone, and I could use some help. So I’m going against my gut here, and just hoping I can trust you.” She starts communicating regularly with “S/N.” Their correspondence is shown in text format. They begin each day by telling each other three things, and in this way get to “know” each other. Jessie learns that S/N had a loss too, 196 days ago – and they relate to each other’s feelings about the catastrophic effect on their lives.
S/N recommends that Jessie befriend Adrianna (“Dri”) Sanchez: ‘I don’t know why, but I feel like you two could be good friends.” And indeed, the two girls become close, and Dri helps Jessie forget her problems. When they go to a party:
“We all pile into her mom’s car and turn up the radio. I feel like a normal teenage girl headed to a normal party on a normal Saturday night. I might have, for a least a little while, taken off my top-secret grief backpack and left it behind.”
Meanwhile, Jessie is also getting something of a crush on a very cute and quiet iconoclast, Ethan Marks, who is in some of her classes. They get paired up for a project and spend more and more time together. Ethan tells her he is sorry she lost her mom, and they talk about how death makes everything awkward. As Ethan points out, people just like to pretend it didn’t happen because it’s uncomfortable and scary and they don’t know what to say.
But Jessie also feels closer to S/N and wants to meet him. He writes her: “you know that piece of hair that always falls into your eyes – the not-quite-a-bang piece? I want to be able to tuck it behind you ear. I want to be able to do that. I want to meet you when I feel comfortable enough with you to do that.”
Meanwhile, Liam, a boy Jessie meets at her part-time job at “Book Out Below” starts talking more to Jessie, and she strongly suspects he is S/N. She texts her theories to Scarlett, her best friend back in Chicago, but Scarlett is upset with her for reasons Jessie doesn’t understand at first. All of the sudden, there are all these new complications in her life.
Still, the loss of her mom looms large in the background. She misses the fact that “there is no longer a person in the world who is interested in everything I have to say just by virtue of the fact that it comes out of my mouth.” It will never be okay, she knows, that her mom won’t be present at all the big moments in her life. But she vows to herself that she will power through it. Moving back to Chicago won’t help, she realizes: ” . . . the truth is I don’t want to be anywhere at all, because wherever I go, I still come with me. I’m stuck in this brain, in tis body, in this ugly swamp of humanness.”
She only gives in to her grief when she can’t help it anymore: “Tears are kind of like urine. There is only so long you can hold them in.”
But first love can offer some healing power and a cure for loneliness, and it looks like a new love is about to work its magic on Jessie, if she can just figure out which one of the boys in her life is the one she wants.
Evaluation: This book is absolutely delightful. The author, who endured the loss of her own mother as a young teen, knows her subject, and she also retained an excellent memory for how teens think and talk and act. I enjoyed this thoroughly.
Published by Ember, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of penguin Random House, 2016