High school senior Christy's life has not been easy, especially since her father's death seven years ago. A truck driver, Christy's father told her how "he'd follow the tail lights of the truck in front of him, until they took him somewhere safe." Since his death, Christy's safe place has been the bridge that overlooks I-69, the highway out of Flint and the divide between Miller Road Mansions, where her best friend Anne lives, and Christy's impoverished neighborhood. Christy's encouragement comes from her English teacher, Ms. Chapman, while at home her older half-brother Ryan is in charge. The nights when Christy's niece Bree stays with their Aunt Dee are the worst: These are the nights when Ryan comes to Christy's room. As senior year progresses, Ms. Chapman helps Christy get a job at the library, succeeds in cajoling Christy to join the track team, and ultimately supports Christy in reclaiming her life: "She didn't teach me how to run; she showed me how to walk tall.o Not shying from the complexities of life with "plenty to run from, but . . . nothing and nowhere to run to," this novel incorporates sexual abuse, suicide, neglect, drug use, alcoholism, depression, and homosexuality in this believable portrait of life on the "other side" of the highway. Well paced, with fluent dialogue, Christy's first-person narrative occasionally reads more like a social worker's counseling than the struggles of a young woman who has been abused for more than a third of her life. Nevertheless readers looking for inspiration might find some in this story of developing resilience.
Although she's smart and fast on her feet, Christy is sure her life in Flint, Mich. is going nowhere. The best she can do is to take her beloved dead father's advice: Follow the taillights of the car in front of you, and it will lead you to where you need to go. She's convinced herself that the dark events of her past mean she will amount to nothing in the future, but thanks to the sage words of cute coworker and a teacher's open ear she learns to make some smart choices and take control of her own destiny in times of trauma. This has all the conventions of a successful teen problem novel, including poverty, sexual abuse, neglectful and dead parents, parents who live for power trips, drug dealing, incarceration and unrequited crushes. Unfortunately, the maudlin writing often gets in the way of the plot and character development. In spite of these difficulties, the pacing is excellent, building to a tidy ending. Emo teens and fans of Dave Pelzer's books will love the oceans of angst and the many dire situations Christy and her friends and family face and eventually survive. (Fiction. YA)