21 August 2012

Book (P)Review: Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

The first half of this book was hard to get through, but the second half found its stride and improved considerably. Beware: ahead there be spoilers.

If ever there were a book that demonstrates how the part of the teenage brain that oversees risk tasking and evaluating consequences isn't fully developed until the mid-twenties, this is it.  We all know that teenagers do stupid things. We know this by observation, and we know this because we all did stupid things as teens that we would not dream of doing in our adult lives.

It's absurd that Zoe and Will run away together after they've only known each other two months. Zoe is a quiet survivor who endures her father's verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis, while Will harbors a troubled past and a violent rap that has landed him in various foster homes, never staying in one for very long. Once he turns eighteen, he convinces Zoe to run away with him. She's smart and fearful from living with her dad, yet oddly innocent; he's hardened but with a real soft spot for Zoe.  All he wants to do is protect her; all she wants to do is feel safe with somebody for once in her life. So they take off from North Dakota in a beat-up Camaro and a thousand dollars of stolen money and head to Vegas to make a new life for themselves.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: how can *that* possibly go wrong?

Before they cross their first state line, Will has beaten up her father.  He swears up and down that he would never hurt Zoe, but what he doesn't realize is there is more than one way to hurt a person.

Before they cross their second state line, Zoe has been caught shoplifting tampons because she's too embarrassed to ask Will for the money to pay for them and Will breaks a bottle of wine over the gas station proprietor's head. They dash out the door, leaving him for dead.

Yeah. How can any plan that these two kids concoct possibly go wrong?

So basically their story doesn't end well.  I had imagined a Thelma & Louise scenario, but instead it involved a standoff with the police and the FBI

I had a lot of trouble buying into the premise of the first half of the book: that Zoe, the quintessential good girl who keeps her head down, would run off with Will in the first place. That Zoe's friends, neighbors, and teachers would all turn a blind eye to her father's abuse.  She had visible bruises, apparently. The reader can't possibly believe that North Dakotans value children less than other people, and we can't write it off as being secret, or that it happened in a time when things like this weren't talked about (there's no date given, but they have cell phones with cameras, so it's 21st century).

But once I hit the 150 page mark, and once the first bad decisions were made, it was easy to fall into the second half and believe where the consequences of those initial bad decisions would take them. The second half felt intense without being melodramatic, and the closer the ending gets, the more inexorable it feels.  God, I wouldn't be a teenager again, in love and with no way out, for anything.

NB: This book won't pub until January 29, 2013, from HarperTeen.  I read an ARC that was sent to my bookstore and which I randomly picked up to read.

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