"The stark honesty of Kendra's feelings about living with a brother with a mental illness will touch readers, but it is Grayson's responses that really set this apart as an unflinching and heartbreaking portrayal of the complexities of such a relationship."
* "Brown skillfully navigates the emotional complexities and psychological minefields of her characters and their relationship, treating OCD with delicacy without losing sight of the big picture."Publishers Weekly, starred review"
Brown paints an unflinching, nuanced portrait of siblings in a family overwhelmed by serious illness....Readers will enjoy the trip."VOYA"
[A] road-trip novel with momentum and realistic characters that will have many teen readers hitching a ride."School Library Journal"
The stark honesty of Kendra's feelings about living with a brother with a mental illness will touch readers, but it is Grayson's responses that really set this apart as an unflinching and heartbreaking portrayal of the complexities of such a relationship."The Bulletin"
Kendra's struggle to face her mistakes will resonate with many young adult readers...intelligent and compassionate."Library Media Connection
The bond between a brother and sister is stretched to the breaking point in this well-crafted road-trip drama born out of intense family pressures and questionable decisions. Seventeen-year-old Kendra defines herself by two things: her drive for academic and personal perfection, and her older brother Grayson’s severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. She has lived her life around keeping Grayson under control and out of trouble, even as his condition drives away her best friend, Zoe. When a cheating scandal threatens to destroy Kendra’s academic standing, she snaps, dragging Grayson on a cross-country trip from Missouri to California in an ill-defined attempt to “fix” both their lives. Instead, they find an endless series of seedy motels, pick up a hitchhiker who has her own problems, and have some cathartic heart-to-hearts. Brown (Bitter End) skillfully navigates the emotional complexities and psychological minefields of her characters and their relationship, treating OCD with delicacy without losing sight of the big picture. There is no neat solution to the problems Kendra and Grayson face, but the journey is well worth it. Ages 12–up. Agent: Cori Deyoe, 3 Seas Literary Agency. (July)
Grayson's "difficulties" first manifest at age nine, as ritualized trips to a local quarry to obsessively count rocks. Eleven years later, Grayson's mental illness has taken over the family's priorities. Sister Kendra's default option is to become the child without "difficulties." Popular, resilient, and an excellent student, Kendra carefully constructs a perfect facade to compensate. When a cheating scandal threatens to shatter that facade, Kendra hits the road with a protesting Grayson riding shotgun. The destination is California and an old friend who reminds her of a less-troubled time. Watching Kendra and Grayson try to manage the chaos that Kendra has created takes up the remainder of the novel. Brown paints an unflinching, nuanced portrait of siblings in a family overwhelmed by serious illness. This is a buddy book, a literal and symbolic journey, and an examination of a complicated sibling relationship. There is nowhere to hide on a car trip, and Kendra and Grayson must face each other and their problems. Both siblings deal with the effects of taking a life journey they did not choose. The reader, as silent witness, learns what it is like to be the center of a family storm, as well as the resulting collateral damage. Developed, complex characters, subtleties of relationships, and examination of difficult issues make for a thought-provoking book. This is not an easy book but readers will enjoy the trip. Reviewer: Amy Fiske
Gr 9 Up—Perfection is not only what Kendra strives for, but it's also something that her OCD brother can never attain. The more Grayson slips away from normalcy, the more she steps up her game at school and home, becoming an overachiever. While he has to drop out of school and enter treatment programs to even hope for a life in the mainstream, Kendra has tried to cope with losing her friend Zoe, whose parents relocated from Missouri to California to break off her romance with oh-so-unacceptable Grayson. In her senior year, Kendra encounters a course she can't perfect: calculus. When school officials search her locker for proof of her involvement in a cheating ring, she runs to the town quarry, an OCD Mecca for Grayson's rock sorting and counting for years. This time, instead of coaxing him away, she practically kidnaps him, driving away in, her junky car, Hunka. When Kendra can't conceive of returning home to face the music, she decides just to keep going, eventually settling on finding Zoe as a target of their unplanned road trip. There is no "perfect," and there is no "escape" from the consequences of her actions or from a very real illness like OCD, no matter how far she drives. A ratty hotel stop finds the siblings with two more in Hunka-teen mom Rena and baby Bo. Brown delivers a problem road-trip novel with momentum and realistic characters that will have many teen readers hitching a ride.—Suzanne Gordon, Peachtree Ridge High School, Suwanee, GA
For 17-year-old Kendra, life has been defined by her older brother's OCD, causing her to strive for perfection in all things. When Grayson is released from his latest treatment center, she worries that her brother's presence will disrupt the family's tranquility. But this time it's Kendra's secret extracurricular activities that threaten the facade of perfection--she is caught buying test answers and reselling them. Rather than face consequences, she hijacks Grayson for an impromptu road trip to see California's Hayward Fault (one of his leading obsessions) while hoping to reconnect with her past best friend, Zoe. Compared to Brown's previous work--on school shootings and abusive relationships (Hate List, 2010; Bitter End, 2011)--this story seems almost fluffy. While lies and family stress should fuel narrative tension, the flat emotions and unsympathetic characters can't capitalize on it. Sibling fighting simply can't achieve the level of raw emotion that Brown has communicated in the past. Kendra's pursuit of perfection isn't anything new, and the correlation of perfection with obsession never solidifies. Grayson doesn't emerge as a character beyond his disorder, so his meltdowns and compulsions become plot-device annoyances rather than emotional turmoil. An imperfect offering from a nearly perfect author. (Fiction. 12 & up)