Writing: 5 Plot: 4 Characters: 5
I loved every single thing about this insightful, beautifully told story about a 16 year old still counting the days since her mother died (747). A few months before the story starts, her father moves her from her home in Chicago to a swanky area of Los Angeles to live with the “step-monster” (actually a very nice, recently widowed woman named Rachel) and her son Theo, who misses his father as much as Jessie misses her mother. Jessie is enrolled in a private school for wealthy kids and finds it very difficult to start a new life when she is still completely broken by the old. Enter the mysterious “SN” (for Somebody-Nobody) who has anonymously contacted her via email and offers to help her navigate the difficulties of Wood Valley high school.
Friendship, bullying, sex, self-discovery – all topics deftly considered and discussed by a set of colorful and believable characters: Scarlett, the half Korean, half Jewish best friend from Chicago; Theo, the flamboyantly gay step-brother; Ethan, handsome, broken, poetry nerd who wears his batman shirt every day; Liam, lead vocalist for the band Oville and son of the bookstore owner who gives Jessie a job; and of course, “SN” who quickly becomes the person Jessie texts constantly. The plot is interesting and full of surprising, yet plausible events, but the real attraction of this novel is the excellent writing. Page after page of insightful thoughts, conversations, and descriptions. These characters are so real that your heart soars and breaks along with them. I’m always looking for authors who can distill and explain the essence of a character’s experience and Julie Buxbaum does this incredibly well.