Tristan Bloch is an outcast – he’s the weird kid that no one else likes. The only people who seem to like him are his English teacher and his mum. Then comes the day that 13 year old Cally finds a letter from Tristan in her locker, professing his love for her. Cally gives Tristan’s letter to her boyfriend Ryan, hoping he will look after this awkward situation for her. He does. Instigated by Ryan, a bunch of kids from their grade bully Tristan over Facebook, pointing out his flaws, some even urging him to kill himself. Eventually, he does.
Fast forward 4 years and Molly Nicoll is beginning at the school in her first role as an English teacher. She brings fresh eyes to the school and gets to know and comes to care about this group of teens. Little does she know the story of their past, or how it has affected each of them.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I selected this from the Netgalley list, but I got a lot more than I bargained for. This is a stunning debut novel, raw and honest with some great characters. Lindsey Lee Johnson focuses her lens on rich kids allowed to run amok with little supervision from their parents and fewer consequences for their actions. We meet Dave, who desperately wants to succeed at school but has no idea how. We meet Calista (Cally), still nursing her guilt from her part in Tristan’s end, and trying to spend all of her time too high to notice. We meet Abigail, who is engaging in an illicit affair with one of her teachers in an effort to connect to someone.
The weight of the expectations placed on the teens, plus the lack of engagement with their parents makes for some terrible decisions and awful outcomes.
High school is supposed to be a safe environment for young people to experiment with who they are and what they want from their lives … up to a point. The parents in this book were absent for a number of reasons – from being self obsessed, to a terrible illness, to being incapable of entering a two way dialogue with their teen no matter how hard they tried. Some of the kids felt so isolated, confused and despairing about their situations that they felt there was no one they could talk to, not even the adults that were trying to connect.
Johnson beautifully captures the loneliness, fear, despair and hope of being a teenager.
5 out of 5 reminders of why I’m glad I never have to be that age again.