I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
Sixteen-year old high-school sophomore Sarah has wanted to be an artist since she made a ceramic owl in first grade. But something shifts in her when her art teacher, Miss Smith, tells the class that there is no such thing as an original idea. Everything has been done before. Nothing new ever happens. Suddenly, Sarah finds herself unable to draw the pear she has set up for herself for an in-class "still life" assignment. Handing in a blank piece of paper, she declares, "I have lost the will to participate." Miss Smith thinks she is only referring to the assignment, but Sarah means it much more globally.
Sarah stops going to school. Going to school is not original. Neither is skipping school and risking expulsion, but that's where her new-found apathy leads her. She takes random buses, pretends an abandoned school building is her "new school," follows a homeless artist named Earl around town, and encounters and interacts with versions of herself from the past and future: ten-year-old Sarah, age-23 Sarah, and age-40 Sarah.
Early in the book, I was impatient with Sarah, not understanding her reactions to the declarations of the art teacher. But as it turns out, there is much more going on. Something has happened. It's something that Sarah finds devastating, but Miss Smith and Sarah's fellow members of the art club behave as if it's nothing. Sarah is expected to just "let it go." And what has happened is just the latest thing. As Sarah explains much later in the narrative, she "tells the truth slowly."
Something happened six years before, when Sarah was still age-ten Sarah. Certain things that happened are missing from present-day Sarah's memory, and her ten-year-old self helps her remember, having just experienced it all a month ago. The things that happened led to Sarah's nine-years-older brother Bruce to move away. Something is not right with her parents, Helen and Chet, but they try to present a united front. Sarah's behavior becomes more understandable as she unravels what happened before and what is bubbling just below the surface.
Side note: Sarah lives in Center City Philadelphia. I am a Philly expat who hasn't lived there since 1995, and I loved the references to city streets and landmarks.
A.S. King has become a great voice in Y.A. She doesn't insult the intelligence of teenagers--the ones in her books or, by implications, the ones in her target audience. Once I got into this book, I wanted to crawl into it and not leave until I was finished. Then I was, and I missed it. But I quickly downloaded another A.S. King book. More on that soon....