On the first day of Lillian's summer-before-college, she gets a message on her cell from her sort-of friend, Penny. Not only has Penny faked her own kidnapping, but Lil is the only one who figures it out. She knows that Penny's home life has been rough, and that her boyfriend may be abusive. Soon, Penny's family, the local police, and even the FBI are grilling Lil, and she decides to head out to Oregon, where Penny has mentioned an acquaintance. And who better to road-trip across the country with than Lil's BFF, Josh. But here's the thing: Lil loves Josh. And Josh doesn't want to "ruin" their amazing friendship.
Josh has a car and his dad's credit card. Lil has her cellphone and a hunch about where Penny is hiding. There's something else she needs to find: Are she and Josh meant to be together?
Halpern delivers a summer road-trip novel with dark undertones, suggestive of a John Hughes film in its humor, pathos, and keen eye for the teenage mindset. Lil, a recent high school graduate who breezed through her senior year, has just heard from her sort-of friend Penny, who has faked her own kidnapping. Pretending (to herself and others) that she doesn't know why Penny took off, Lil persuades her best friend Josh to drive to Portland, Ore., to find Penny. Armed with cheesy Wisconsin-themed T-shirts and a sense of adventure, Lil and Josh travel west, visiting strange roadside attractions and staying in even stranger hotels, while Lil wrestles with her longtime, unrequited love for Josh. There isn't much sense of mystery to the trip painful passages from Penny's viewpoint make clear the reasons behind her departure, and they find her too easily but Lil's strong narrative voice and banter-filled relationship with Josh are immediate draws. As she did in Get Well Soon and Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, Halpern demonstrates her skill in creating outsidery everyteens trying to make sense of their lives. Ages 13 up.