Me, walking into the living room and throwing my copy of Empty onto the couch: Well, THAT was an inspiring read first thing in the morning!
Josh, completely immersed in Spider Solitaire, which he is totally addicted to because he is secretly 84-years-old: That's good, honey.
Me: HELLO, THAT WAS SARCASM.
I probably should have expected it. After all, Walton's first book, Cracked—a story about a bully and his victim both ending up on a psych ward after what appear to be a pair of failed suicide attempts—made me moan (aloud) with ennui and anguish and despair. In that one, though, there were occasional glimmers of hope. Not so much here.
Seventeen-year-old Adele "Dell" Turner's life has changed A LOT over the last two years. Her engineer father cheated on and left her mother shortly after she gave birth to Dell's beloved baby sister. He refuses to pay child support, so the three of them live in a tiny, run-down apartment, and Dell's mother is zonked out on prescription meds most of the time. Not that she's home very much: she's working two jobs—one of them at a pharmacy, so you can guess where THAT storyline goes—and they're still barely scraping by.
MEANWHILE (yes, there's more), Dell has gained fourteen sizes—the only thing that comforts her is food—been kicked off of the softball team, her best friend is pulling away from her in search of popularity, and the harassment at school has reached an all-time high. Seems like things couldn't get worse, right? Wrong*.
So, yeah. Empty won't be for everyone. Because there's not a whole lot of hope here—Dell adores her little sister, she's an amazingly talented singer, and when she's in shape, she's an outstanding athlete—but none of that is enough to fill the void inside of her. When she's with her peers, she wants to be invisible... except for when she really does feel invisible, and then she wants to be seen. More than that, though, she wants desperately to be loved, to simply be embraced, but no one—not her mother, her father, her best friend—is willing or able to give her that. Also, as in Cracked, Walton does a stellar job of showing that child abuse—or at the very least, crappy-ass parenting—doesn't always involve fists.
Like Susanne Colasanti's Keep Holding On, it seems clear from the Author's Note that, in a way, Empty is meant as a 250-page-long It Gets Better message; unlike Keep Holding On, though, Empty doesn't come off as a classic issue novel. It's a book that deals with issues, but said issues don't overshadow Dell's voice or character. Along those lines, while we only get Dell's view of her best friend, Cara comes off as a real person, too: she's certainly not perfect, but it's clear that she's torn and frustrated and at a loss.
There are no hazy Afterschool Special moments, and there is no Teen Movie Magic here, either: Dell has her Napoleon Dynamite moment at the talent show, but it is followed up with something utterly devastating. Which, sadly, is probably more realistic.
Nutshell: It's not going to be the best pick for, say, Meghan Cox Gurdon, but it'll go over like gangbusters for readers who're dealing with similar issues, or trying to understand those who are.
*SPOILER ALERT/trigger warning: She's raped by her long-time crush. Who then, when confronted by his girlfriend—who is already one of Dell's most vicious antagonists—claims that Dell raped HIM. And everyone believes him. Because, you know. He's hot, so clearly she wanted him.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.