A Lambda Award finalist that “recalls both Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and Lehane’s Mystic River in a story about murder and false accusations” (The Bay Area Reporter).
Bradley, Massachusetts, is in many ways a typical small New England town, but a river divides it in half—on one side, the East End: crowded triple-deckers, the Most Precious Blood parish, and a Brazilian immigrant community; and on the other, the West End: renovated Victorians, Brandywine Academy, and families with last names as venerable as the Mayflower.
Deirdre Murphy and her partner Sara Jane (SJ) Edmonds have just moved to their first house—and for the first time are open in their relationship—in the West End, where Deirdre teaches at Brandywine Academy. A dedicated teacher from a working-class background, she is well loved by her students. But the murder of ten-year-old Leo Rivera from the East End changes everything—for Deirdre and SJ, for the girls at Brandywine, and for all of Bradley. And when Deirdre is falsely accused of sexually molesting one of her students, the entire town erupts.
“From a landscape peopled with supportive neighbors, coworkers and lovers of all types, Smith erases the certainty underlying characters’ beliefs and sets them tumbling into chaos. The Year of Needy Girls is an intelligent and captivating read that will spur readers to question their own truths.”—VA Living Magazine
“Smith conveys the impact of this prejudicial hostility on two young women who are struggling to make their way in an intolerant world with a tender and delicate understanding in this nuanced tale of identity and misperception, connection and alienation.”—Booklist
“A provoking read.”—Publishers Weekly
Smith's debut novel is a tense story about a small town swept up in bigotry and paranoia after the brutal murder of a local boy sends the residents into a frenzied witch hunt. In Bradley, Mass., the talented high school French teacher Dierdre Murphy and her girlfriend, librarian SJ, are constantly made to feel like outsiders after publicly revealing their same-sex relationship. When young Anna Worthington takes an opportunity to act on her crush on her favorite teacher, her mother sees them and thinks the worst; suddenly, Dierdre finds herself the victim of false accusations fueled by homophobia. Meanwhile SJ realizes she has a connection with the man accused of the boy's murder and is forced to examine her loyalties and explore her own blind spots and misconceptions. As SJ and Dierdre navigate their personal dramas, will they be able to keep hold of each other? Smith's tale is a nail-biting character study that delves into the complicated nuances of why people need each other, and how a seemingly solvable problem can snowball into a personal disaster. Though not every loose thread finds resolution and some story lines are satisfying more than others, Smith's crisp prose and dedication to realistic moral ambiguity make for a provoking read. This review has been updated to reflect that the author is not the poet Patricia Smith.