Author: Jennifer Brown
Publication: Little, Brown and Company, hardcover, 2012
Setting: Present-day MidwestDescription: Kendra’s older brother Grayson has such acute OCD that he has been institutionalized and had to leave high school. When he and Kendra’s best friend Zoe got romantically involved, Zoe’s family was so upset they moved to California to separate them. Kendra feels as if she lost her brother and best friend. She is lonely and has thrown herself into being perfect to make up to her parents for their stress with Grayson. But now Kendra is in trouble at school, which threatens her college plans and her reputation. Panicked, she rescues Grayson at the quarry where he goes to think, and begins a crazy road trip to the West Coast. Kendra thinks if she and Grayson can reach Zoe her life will go back to normal but she hasn’t seen her friend for three years. It doesn’t occur to her that Zoe might have changed, that Grayson needs his medication, that her parents are frantically worried about them, or that she is really running away from herself.
My Impression: I had read and thought highly of the author’s Hate List, about a girl whose boyfriend opens fire on a list of students she helped him create as a joke, so picked this up at a library book sale. As it turns out it falls into a sub-sub genre of road trip books. Sometimes characters are literally going from place A to place B and it’s a merry (or not so merry) journey. Sometimes a character is escaping from place A and doesn’t care where she winds up. Here, Kendra just wants to get away from a really bad situation and it’s not until she has been driving for several hours. I sympathized with her inability to do calculus, which took me back to a bad math class in high school. I can’t imagine now why I didn’t get a tutor or why Kendra didn’t try more aggressively to find help before she got herself into trouble.
However, the story is not only about Kendra’s trying to escape from her misdeeds but also how hard it is to be the “untroubled” sibling. Kendra has been so embarrassed and stressed out by her brother’s mental health issues that she forgot how close they had been and distanced herself when he needed her, so they grew apart. She suspects her mother coddles Grayson too much but heading for California without consulting him and without bringing his medication seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Kendra is not always the most likable character but she has hilarious encounters as they travel west and often manages to distract Grayson from his tormented thoughts.
He seemed more relaxed than he’d been in years. But a part of me wondered how much of that was about my plan working and how much was about me not seeing him for who he really was. Was I just seeing it now because I’d been stuck in a car with him for two days and he was always right there in my face, whereas at home I could isolate myself, pretend he and his problems didn’t exit whenever it was inconvenient for me to face them? Or was it because he (or Mom and Dad) had tried to shelter me from his OCD at home? Or was I just blind, forever wanting so much to have the perfect family that I refused to see reality?The ex-best friend does not come through but the brother does and that is the feel-good part of this story, as Kendra and Grayson resurrect their sibling relationship. And the book ends perfectly, with their problems unresolved. For those who complain YA fiction is all fantasy or teen romance (or both), this is an unusual and appealing read that ignores both those topics.
Source: Ex-library/personal copy. This is the first of my 20 Books of Summer 2023.