High school junior Chase Farrell has attempted suicide twice, holds regular counsel with a psychiatrist, and has only tattered memories of the horrible automobile accident from which he walked away but in which four friends died. He bears the yoke of survivor's guilt because Angie, his ex-girlfriend, was the driver. A gifted actor, Chase cannot bring himself to reconnect with the school's drama productions, and the troubled teen withdraws from his family. His minister father seems more concerned with his congregation than Chase's mental state. A cluttered story line clouds the intriguing premise, perhaps purposely to mirror Chase's anguish. Johnston sketches out a situation where the main character and readers both progressively connect the dots to figure out what happened just before the automobiles collided. Consider these many subplots: Chase is bullied by macho wrestlers demanding to know why his ex-girlfriend was enlisted to drive the drunken teens home even though Angie had begun dating one of their teammates. Chase wants desperately to reconnect with Ben, his older brother, who has been recently released from a detention center. Darla, a new girl with a nasty sexual past, befriends the emotionally crippled teen but passes on taking the relationship further. Additional distractions arise when the author enthusiastically but unnecessarily inserts details of character roles from well-known stage performances. Nevertheless Johnston hits his stride, and teens who stick with this title will be rewarded with a gripping finish when Chase discovers the awful truth behind his repressed memories.
Chase Farrell's mind is in fragments and his world is falling apart. The only survivor of an accident that killed his best friend, ex-girlfriend, and a classmate, Chase tries to soothe his guilt through obsessive behaviors like counting in patterns and avoiding cracks in sidewalks. Unable to remember details of the accident, deal with flashbacks, or drown out the voices screaming inside his head, Chase attempts suicide and suffers an almost complete mental breakdown. Drama classes and an upcoming school play no longer shield Chase from the problems surrounding his parents and older brother, Ben. Therapy seems to hurt more than help, and sessions with the psychiatrist feel like "a forty-five minute game of chicken" as Chase refuses to reveal the terrible secrets he has hidden from everyone, including himself. Chase tells his story in short, staccato chapters that leave the reader begging to learn what really happened to him. He is the quintessential unreliable narrator. Though the book's ending is a bit too pat to be believable, the concerns it reveals (from dysfunctional families to grief to child sexual abuse) make Fragments powerful bibliotherapy for older teens comfortable with some harsh language and sexual innuendoes.