Billie and Lydia are high school seniors on the depressed coast of Washington. With an economy frozen by the shuttered lumber industry, the two area high schools are forced to be combined. This heightens the rivalry instead of putting it to rest, but it does allow the two social outsiders to meet. Each are targets of the Neanderthal bullies at the school; Lydia because she is Filipino and Billie because his uncle is a drug-addicted rock star. But these are the surface aspects that any miscreant would use to torment a person.
Dig a little deeper and these two have a lot more in common that each would think. Billie senses a connection and sits across from Lydia at free breakfast on the first day of school. She tells him to get lost. Billie’s eternal optimism will not be beat and he continues to try to make a new friend. Eventually Lydia opens up and they share their pain: both are from broken homes and families who are struggling financially. They build a support system and as the world around them gets more confusing with extremes of weather and paranormal activity, their strength in numbers becomes the only thing they can depend on.
The story is told in alternating chapters from Billie and Lydia’s points of view. They are both good narrators with strong unique voices. Billie is the positive person who even after being struck down over and over again by life, having a grandmother who ignores him and an uncle who never reaches out to him, he continues to try to find agency. Lydia has created a hard shell around herself after her mother died while running away from the family. Her father tries his best, but it’s hard to raise a child while working behind a bar. Reed has a real talent for fully painting these sympathetic characters.
The plot was a bit shaky. The basic premise is interesting and the last quarter of the book is definitely fast moving, but there’s no real overarching conflict to keep the tension through the middle of the book. Most of the conflict revolves around the evolving relationship between the characters and I felt like there needed to be a better external stab to get the pages turning. The worldbuilding was good when describing the local Washington landscape, but was vague when trying to include aspects of a psuedo-dystopian US that has somehow lost Florida and has a ‘King’ for a leader. This King is a pretty cheap knockoff of Trump which seemed a little too easy a villain to draw.
Overall, I enjoyed these characters, but wanted either the dystopian part of the novel to be more of a factor or Billie and Lydia to be on their toes a bit more throughout.
3 out of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley, Simon Pulse, and the author for an advanced copy for review.