2016 VOYA Top Shelf Fiction Selection
CCBC’s Best Books for Kids & Teens (Fall 2016) — Starred Selection
Hope leaves her small town for a fresh start, but her plans are derailed by an online romance and the appearance of her brother.
Hope lives in a small town with nothing to do and nowhere to go. With a drug addict for a brother, she focuses on the only thing that keeps her sane, writing poetry. To escape, she jumps at the chance to attend Ravenhurst Academy as a boarding student. She’ll even put up with the clique-ish Ravens if it means making a fresh start.
At first, Ravenhurst is better than Hope could have dreamed. She has a boyfriend and a cool roommate, and she might finally have found a place she can fit in. But can she trust her online boyfriend? And what can she do after her brother shows up at the school gates, desperate for help, and the Ravens turn on her? Trapped and unsure, Hope realizes that if she wants to save her brother, she has to save herself first.
What begins as a cautionary tale about drug addiction expands to address sexual abuse and bullying as well. Nelson (250 Hours) alternates rapidly between the perspectives of Hope Randall, 15, and her older brother, Eric, a onetime rising hockey star who has been kicked out of the house for using meth. Hope has been accepted to an elite private school, and her worries about Eric's wellbeing compete with her struggles with a clique of cruel girls. The pages are steeped in emotional torment Hope relies on her angst-ridden poetry to cope with hers, while Eric goes down an increasingly degrading and dangerous path as he searches for his next fix and reckons with the secret abuse that drove him to drugs in the first place. Nelson certainly evokes the desperation of both siblings, but heavy-handed language ("Whatever emotions had been inside me had turned hard, cooked by the meth") and some less-believable plot details, such as how quickly and fully Hope throws herself into an online relationship with a boy she's never met or spoken to, are less successful. Ages 12 up.