So begins the diary of 14-year-old Jenna Samuels, who is having a very bad eighth-grade year. Her single mother spends all day in bed. Dad vanished when she was eight. Her 16-year-old brother, Casey, tries to hold together what’s left of the family by working two after-school jobs— difficult, as he’s stoned all the time. To make matters worse, Jenna is sick. When she collapses one day, Casey tries to race her to the hospital in their beat-up Prius and crashes instead.
Jenna wakes up in the ER to find Casey beside her. Beautified. Literally. The flab and zits? Gone. Before long, Jenna figures out that Casey didn’t survive the accident at all. He’s an “A-word.” (She can’t bring herself to utter the truth.) Soon they discover that Jenna isn’t just dying: she’s being poisoned. And Casey has been sent back to help solve the mystery that not only holds the key to her survival, but also to their mother’s mysterious depression and father’s disappearance.
This story started out great. The voice is lively and engaging, the relationship between Jenna and her brother is real and believable, and Jenna’s life feels like it belongs to a typical teen. At the same time, everything is clearly wrong. Jenna’s mom won’t get out of bed, and Casey has to work two jobs in order to pay the household bills. I was completely sucked in based on the summary above and the first chapter.
The pacing wasn’t quite what I was looking for, though. The summary gave away too much of the first half of the story, so I found myself impatient to get to the parts where I didn’t know what was going to happen next. To be fair, that’s not really the fault of the story, but of the person who wrote the summary. Unfortunately, it makes it seem like the story is slow.
I liked the characters a lot. Both Jenna and Casey feel like real kids trying to do the best they can, given their raging hormones and other unusual problems at home. They’re flawed, but that’s what made them so likeable.
There’s no actual romance, but there’s the promise of it in the future. The ending felt like a setup for the next book, though, as well as the role that Jenna’s love interest will play—I’m pretty sure there’s a plot twist hiding in there, and I wish it had been a little less obvious. :) That said, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story, and this book could still be satisfactorily read as a stand-alone.
Overall, I found this fun and entertaining, and Jenna’s dialog is quite funny at times. If there is a next book, I’ll be reading it.