Knowles promises more than she delivers in her first novel, which opens with a bold move. Leah Greene is dead; "It's over," says the 17-year-old narrator, Lainey, in the first chapter. "And it's my fault." A lengthy exposition proves anticlimactic: years earlier, when the girls were in fifth grade, popular Leah manipulated ugly-duckling Lainey into secret sexual experimentation, then used their secret to blackmail her. Over the years Leah's control deepens as Lainey glimpses clues that explain Leah's disturbing behavior (she is being molested by a friend of the family). Unfortunately, Lainey spends too much time feeling contempt for herself to leave readers enough room to identify with her, and credible, rarely addressed issues get buried beneath overdone characterizations and unrealistic plotting. Ages 14-up. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
After a tragic car accident, Laine McCarthy reflects on her friendship with Leah Greene. Outcast Laine was overjoyed when popular Leah befriended her in fifth grade. Leah's acceptance of Laine was intoxicating, with Laine passively doing whatever Leah asked. In public, the pair seemed like perfect friends, but in private, they shared a secret. Leah manipulated Laine to touch and kiss her intimately. Laine, afraid of being alone, tolerated Leah's exploitation. Laine's discomfort intensified when she observed Leah's agitated reaction to Sam, her parents' sleazy friend who gave the girls presents, including clothing and perfume, and rides in his sports car. After Laine confronted Leah for interfering when Laine met a boy she liked at the movies, Leah rejected Laine who again was friendless at school until Jessica Lambert initiated a friendship. Laine, Jessica, and a male friend, Web, indulged in a hedonistic lifestyle of drinking, drugs, and partying, which emotionally damaged fragile Laine, especially when Leah publicly humiliated Laine, exposing her deepest shame. Laine's achingly honest voice reveals how oblivious parents, predatory peers, and Leah's self-destructive behavior impacted Laine's perception of herself. Laine's narrative will haunt readers long after she describes frantically following Leah as she drives erratically and crashes, and then visits her grave. Similar teen angst contemplating friends' deaths is portrayed in Mary Beth Miller's Aimee (2002) and John Green's Looking for Alaska (2005). Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
L.G. + L.M. = F.F. When fifth-grader Leah Greene inks those letters on Laine McCarthy's hand and explains that they are now "Friends Forever," Laine is so deliriously happy that she chooses to overlook Leah's occasional spiteful remarks and mercurial mood swings. She even tries to forget the secret kissing and touching games that Leah teaches her. Leah claims the embarrassing and exciting sessions in the closet were just practice for when they were going with boys, but Laine suspects other girls are not practicing these things. Laine wonders why popular Leah chose her as a partner and whether her forever friend might instead be a manipulative monster? As the girls become older, Laine comes to hate her former friend, who now torments her with reminders about their secret activities. Even worse, she spreads rumors that Laine initiated their sex games and prefers girls to boys. Knowles's disquieting first-person narrative of sexual abuse and control among peers might appeal to readers who loved Go Ask Alice (Prentice-Hall, 1971), for it exemplifies the problem novel. Readers demanding a more substantial book will be disappointed with the melodramatic title, cardboard characters, and pedestrian prose. Descriptions of teenage drinking and sexual encounters sprinkled with an occasional four-letter word cannot disguise the fact that this book is little more than a modern version of a nineteenth-century Sunday-school tract. Nasty Leah and nanve Laine remain as tiresomely one-dimensional as any naughty or angelic Victorian misses. Reviewer: Jamie S. Hansen
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up
Laine, 16, has never fully understood why beautiful, popular Leah Green chose her as a best friend that day during fifth-grade recess. Quiet and plain, Laine feels awkward and unwanted in Leah's social circle, and the intense and often-manipulative way that Leah approaches their friendship makes her even more uncomfortable. But Leah is charming and persuasive, and when she pulls Laine into a closet one day to "practice" the sexual behavior that she says they'll one day use with boyfriends, Laine doesn't object. As the girls grow older, Leah uses the secret of their time in the closet as social and emotional blackmail, treating Laine alternately with sly kindness and calculated cruelty. By high school, Leah's behavior has turned self-destructive, culminating in a tragic accident. Her death sends Laine into a spiral of guilt, shame, and, eventually, clarity, as she explores their troubled relationship and finally confronts the painful events that led Leah to ensnare her in a cycle of abuse. The concise, clear style of this short novel belies the sophistication of its subject matter; Knowles sheds valuable light on the long-term emotional impact of child abuse and the roots of sexual abuse among peers. Her characterizations are sharp and nuanced, and she handles Leah, Laine, and the complex dynamic between them with respect and insight.
Meredith RobbinsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Spare and evocative prose weaves the story of Leah and Lainey's turbulent and abusive friendship. Fast friends from a young age, Leah is outgoing, "smart, so the teachers love her and . . . beautiful so the boys love her," while Lainey is plain and introspective. During the younger years of their friendship, Leah is sexually abusive to Lainey, claiming that the two are "practicing." As the girls grow older, Lainey pulls away from Leah, confused and hurt by Leah's opprobrious behavior. Lainey falls in with new friends, while Leah becomes self-destructive. Over time, Lainey comes to understand the roots of Leah's odd behavior, but by the time she comes to fully grasp it, it's too late. Clearly and concisely written, Knowles's provoking exploration of children abusing children portrays the tense and finely crafted dynamics between the two girls. Lainey's character is extremely well-developed showing her metamorphosis from hypercritical and withdrawn to self-realized with a focused and knowing clarity. A razor-sharp examination of friendship, abuse and secrets. (Fiction. YA)