Due to the zoning in her town, Reyna is starting her freshman year at a different school than all of her friends. When abrasive, honest-to-a-fault Olive Barton takes an interest in becoming her friend, Reyna is torn. She's somewhat concerned about becoming friends with a social pariah—see "abrasive" and add "fashion-victim", "ongoing battle with the Queen Bee", and "seemingly humorless"—but mostly, she's just happy to have someone to eat lunch with.
Her friendship with Olive leads to her worldview expanding, to her assumptions being challenged, to sitting down and reconsidering identity and reconsidering friendship: what she wants to put into it, what she wants out of it, what it even IS.
- Points to Kocek for her complex portrayal of Reyna: her freakout about Olive's coming out is not at all flattering, but it felt clear to me—although certainly not to Olive, and not even to herself at first—that said freakout was about change, about being thrown for a loop, than about really having an issue with Olive's sexual orientation. Even when she stoops to being nasty to Olive about being a lesbian, it's not really about that. (Not that it makes it any less hurtful to Olive, but again, PEOPLE ARE COMPLICATED.)
- Along those same lines, points to Kocek for allowing Reyna and Olive to both indulge in some really crappy behavior without demonizing them: sometimes people who're generally pretty nice react to confusion or hurt feelings by lashing out and acting like jerks.
- I could go on about all of the details that make Reyna's perspective so believable and well-rounded—her tendency to filter everything she sees through her own past, which leads her to make some big (and erroneous) assumptions about other people. Put simply, Kocek risks the 'unlikable' label in order to be honest. (Not that there's anything wrong with 'unlikable' characters: I, for one, tend to enjoy them! Except stupid Joffrey. But that's different.)
- It's possible that I'm just super-sheltered, but it seems unlikely to me that a teacher in a somewhat affluent school district in contemporary Connecticut would get away with such overtly bigoted behavior in the classroom. Every time he opened his mouth, I just saw the words EVENTUAL LAWSUIT hanging over his head in blinking neon, and I can't imagine that A) the administration wouldn't have felt the same way and B) that the administration wouldn't have HEARD about it before they did. High schools are hotbeds of gossip: that sort of stuff doesn't stay under the radar for long. So I found that storyline difficult to buy.
- Levi is too perfect to be believed: he's more patient than most adults would be with Reyna's slow journey towards acceptance of the idea that Gay People Are Regular People, Too; I found it bizarre that he continued to like her even during her (admittedly brief) stint as a bully; and the I Have Two Mothers reveal was a little too pointed for me.
- Along those same lines, the Queen Bee was a totally two-dimensional monster.
A bit message-y—sexuality, bullying, suicide, grief, stepmothers, alcoholism, runaways, and more!—but some really strong character development and a thoughtful, bravely complex look at friendship.
Book source: ILLed through my library.