The Day I Killed James

The Day I Killed James

4.6 15
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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IT WASN’T SUPPOSED to end up like this. But it did.

When Theresa brings James to a party as her date, it’s just for the night . . . and he knows that. But when everything goes horribly wrong, James drives his motorcycle off a cliff—and Theresa knows she’s responsible for his death.
Theresa tries to run away from the pain, becoming a new

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IT WASN’T SUPPOSED to end up like this. But it did.

When Theresa brings James to a party as her date, it’s just for the night . . . and he knows that. But when everything goes horribly wrong, James drives his motorcycle off a cliff—and Theresa knows she’s responsible for his death.
Theresa tries to run away from the pain, becoming a new young woman with a whole new life. She meets people, of course, but she never really makes connections—she’s too scared she’ll hurt them, too. But what Theresa discovers is that you can try to run away from the pain—but you can never really run away from yourself. The only way out is through.

This compelling tale of love and loss is about broken hearts—and how to begin to repair your own.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
The provocative title of this novel will attract the attention of many a YA reader and the carefully crafted unraveling of the events will keep them reading. Theresa is a typical high school student who lives next door to James, a 22-year-old military veteran who seems to have a crush on her. When Theresa's boyfriend Randy gives her the "let's date other people" speech, she invites James to accompany her to her girlfriend Frieda's party. Through the high school antics of making someone jealous, Randy realizes that Theresa is special in his life and reconnects with her. While they sort things out, James disappears on his motorcycle and dies going too fast along the California highway. Guilt envelopes Theresa and she is unable to deal with her perceived role in James's death. She runs away from home and works at the San Simeon Museum where she meets Georgia, a young girl living in an abusive situation. Theresa develops a relationship of sorts with the girl as she does her best to work through her own issues. Theresa returns home, or more precisely, she returns to live in Frieda's barn, and one afternoon Georgia shows up on her doorstep, thrown out by her mother. Theresa's voice is both raw and witty, capturing the emotion and ambiguity of a young woman in pain, but it is the unwanted friendship with Georgia that helps her sort through responsibility and recovery. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
Children's Literature - Renee Farrah
Theresa has always known that James likes her. So after the breakup with her boyfriend Randy, James is happy to be Theresa's date to a party, even if it is only to make Randy jealous. But when James witnesses Theresa and Randy making amends, he leaves the party and no one sees him again until his body washes up on shore. Theresa blames herself for James' suicide, and until she can face the truth, she plans to hide herself from everyone and keep a safe distance away. She plans to achieve this with a name change, a shaved head, and a new location. When time does not magically lead to forgiveness for Theresa, she discovers that there is no easy way out and faces the past in the form of James' mother. Part diary, part narrative, Hyde perfectly imitates the attitude of an emotional teenager sorting through feelings. It is a coming of age story where the reader sees the entire struggle but is left to imagine the complete transformation. The stages of grief, independence, and responsibility are the main themes in the book. Reviewer: Renee Farrah
VOYA - James Gahagan
Theresa is a typical high school senior with friends, a boyfriend, and a smitten neighbor, James. When her boyfriend dumps her, Theresa gets James to go with her to her best friend's party. They both understand that she is using him, but James is willing to be used. At the party, Theresa hurts James with a thoughtless act. James jumps on his motorcycle and drives himself off a cliff. Theresa's life begins to come apart. She pushes away everyone who cares about her. Finding no comfort at home, Theresa runs away and takes up destructive habits in an effort to escape her pain. Redemption comes in the form of an abused young girl who lives next door to Theresa. The relationship between Theresa and the girl puts her on a path toward finding a way to deal with her agony. In this starkly told story of grief, guilt, loss, and redemption, Hyde uses first-person diary entries and third-person narration to tell a deeply moving tale. The diary allows the reader a look at the raw pain Theresa is experiencing and also allows the backstory to be told. The ending of the story is somewhat contrived and all characters other than Theresa are fairly flat, but the emotional honesty of the work will keep readers interested to the end. Anyone who has been hurt by someone they love or has hurt another carelessly will find an echo of self in this story. Reviewer: James Gahagan
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up- Theresa's neighbor James has a huge, unrequited crush on her. Theresa loves Randy, who keeps breaking up with her. At a party, she uses James, with his permission, to make Randy jealous. It works: he takes her back, but James leaves the party and drives off a cliff. Convinced she is responsible for his death, Theresa runs away from home, takes on a new identity, and becomes involved in the troubled life of the young girl next door. Her involvement with this child runs deep enough to entwine their lives, and myriad difficulties ensue. When Theresa takes on her new identity, the perspective shifts (first person to third person). This is a bit gimmicky, but it does convey the teen's emotions in trying to escape herself. The author is ambitious and attempts to cover a lot of ground. Theresa has a lot on her plate just trying to deal with her own issues, but by adding abused children, Hyde complicates the protagonist's healing process immensely. Although the teen does grow and has a major turning point, it feels rather forced. The book is filled with snappy, sarcastic, sitcom dialogue and stock characters-the confused teen, the user boyfriend, the tough kid with the soft center. Still, the pacing is brisk, and the story is edgy and bold, with drinking, smoking, runaways, sexual banter, flirting, and murder. Older teens will be captivated, and the cover does a terrific job of selling the book.-Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT

Kirkus Reviews
Theresa knew James totally loved her but used him anyway; she never expected he'd kill himself when she broke his heart at a graduation party. Theresa vows never to let anyone love her again. She shaves her head, changes her name, picks up a serious smoking habit and moves to a trailer park-telling no one. Theresa's self-reinvention is shocking but believable: Her toxic guilt spreads across each page. Journal entries and brief chapters keep readers engaged, offering condensed looks at Theresa's fits of self-flagellation. Predictable resolutions dilute Hyde's tightly knit character and surging plot. A homeless, scrappy child surfaces squarely in front of Theresa as a means of redemption, and a road trip heals them both. Readers will find themselves preoccupied not with these weaknesses, however, but with the quiet, powerful admonition that permeates and saves this novel: Be careful with other people's hearts. Teens who have experienced crushing rejection or who have laughed at the ardent feelings of a classmate will devour this original, gripping story. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.16(w) x 10.94(h) x 0.82(d)
500L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

I'm Sorry I Washed Your Car

Maybe I should have been nicer about it. But it was early. It was so damned early. It was daybreak, damn it to hell. And I didn't have to get up for school yet. And that's one of those things it just doesn't pay to rush.
I guess I should have been nicer about a lot of things. But that's hindsight. Isn't it?
I couldn't just roll over and go back to sleep, because there was water running somewhere. And there shouldn't have been.
So I rolled out of bed and put on Randy's red pin-striped shirt. I love that shirt. If we-God forbid-ever break up, he'd better kiss it goodbye. And I went to the window. And there was James in the driveway, washing my car.
I opened the window. Thought that would get his attention, but not quite. Usually it was not hard for me. To get James's attention.
I waved my arms around. Without raising them too high, because, you know, Randy's shirt only covered just so much. And James was easily encouraged. Pre-encouraged, one might even say. Like one of those computers you buy with the software already installed.
He saw me then. Snapped off the hose. Smiled. When James smiled at me, it made me a little bit nervous. When he smiled at me, his face lit up with this look that always made me wonder why being loved is not the joy the poets claim.
James or Randy, either one. It's just not what they set us up to expect.
He called out good morning to me.
"James," I said, trying to be half-assed quiet to keep my father out of it. My father was not so sure about the whole James phenomenon. "Why are you washing my car?"
It's really pathetic, what happened to that poor smile. It reminded me of a dog told to play dead. James had this way of making me feel bad. Life has this way of making me feel bad.
"Don't you want me to?" he asked. "I'm sorry."
How do I answer a question like that?
So I just looked up at the sky, which seemed somewhat black and expectant, and I said, "I think maybe it's going to rain."
"If it does," James said, "it will be all my fault. Because I washed your car. Do you want me to stop now? I'd at least have to rinse off this soap."
I didn't know if I wanted James to wash my car. I'd never really thought about it. It was too early to think about it when I was put on the spot to say. But one thing I did know for sure.
I said, "I definitely do not want you to wash my car and then apologize for it."
"Right," he said. "Sorry. I mean . . . you know what I mean."
I closed the window. My father stuck his head in through my door. The hose sound kicked in again from the driveway.
"Who are you talking to?" my father asked. "Why are you making so much noise? You woke me up. Why did you wake me?"
"You have to get up now anyway," I said, looking at the clock. "You'll be late for work."
He reached for my alarm clock. Knocked it over onto its back. "Aw, crap. Why didn't you wake me?"
I said, "I did wake you, Remember? That's what you were just complaining about."
See, it even extends to parents. What I said about love.

It rained. I can't entirely claim it's because James washed my car, because it rained days later. But it felt satisfying, somehow, to blame this and that on James.
I was sitting at the dining room table paying bills. Because somebody had to do it.
When I looked out the window it was raining in sheets, and I swore I saw James skate by. Down the driveway toward the garage. It was like a moment of action in bad animation. You know how when they're really hard up for animation dollars they move a static character across a static scene? Like that.
His hair was still short from that two-year stint in the Air Force. So the fact of being soaking wet didn't change his look much. He had a hat, but he wasn't wearing it. Just holding it by the brim. And then that was it. He just slid out of my field of view.
A moment later he came by in the other direction. Garage to street. Without his shirt. Hat in hand. Wearing a strappy sleeveless undershirt like the kind my uncle Gerry used to wear. Only, I have to say it, it looked better on James.
He'd certainly buffed up while he was away.
I couldn't decide if this was a fun game or not. Probably not.
On the third trip by, no noticeable change. Which made me wonder suddenly if he was still wearing his pants. Which made me jump up to see. Which made James laugh and point, like, I got you. I made you look.
He was wearing his pants. But he made me look.
What he was not wearing were skates. He was just sliding. Hydroplaning along the fresh concrete of my driveway in a quarter-inch sheet of standing water. Which didn't seem a good enough explanation until I realized he was sliding down the trail of automatic transmission fluid my crappy old hand-me-down car deposits on its way to and from the garage.
James was always telling me to get that fixed. He'd even offered to replace my pan gasket, an offer I'd several times refused. If I had been foolish enough to let him in just then, he likely would've offered again.
Once he had my attention, something happened to his. He failed to cut off the skid in time. He sort of bounced off our garage door. Then he recovered his poise and began to dance. It reminded me of a cat after it loses face. That sort of "I meant to do that" attitude. He looked pretty smooth, actually. Dancing. It was this old-fashioned Gene Kelly sort of a thing. Not half bad.
Then all of a sudden there was my father. Right at my left shoulder.
He said, "What in God's name is he doing?"
I said, "Apparently a scene from Singin' in the
He said, "The guy has no shame."
I said, "How can you say that, Dad? He's adorable. He's just being playful."
"You just described a golden retriever puppy. He has no shame because he doesn't even bother to pretend he's not in love with you when I'm around."
"Yes, he does. He can't see you from there."
"Of course he can."
"No, he can't. Come over here."
So he moved over to where James could see him. James slipped on a patch of transmission fluid. His feet came right out from underneath him. He landed on his hip and one elbow, and just lay there. Looking vaguely disoriented.
My father said, "Ouch."
I said, "I told you he didn't know you were here."
He said, "You really ought to get that transmission looked at."

From the Hardcover edition.

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