Olivia Blakely, known as Liv, is aged sixteen living in Los Angeles. She is the youngest of three children to a father Congressman Colin Blakely and her mother who is a lawyer. Liv is a talented artist. Her ambition is to attend art school and make a career as a painter. But her parents have other ideas. They want her to attend an Ivy League university and study for some kind of professional degree.
Her father, as the story begins, makes a momentous decision: he is to become a candidate for the governorship of California. The conflicting ambitions within the family circle generate a level of tension that is more or less intolerable. Reading de la Cruz’s story, the reader witnesses Liv’s slow but torturous descent into bulimia. The narrative centres on the questions whether Liv can recover her mental health and what chance she has of realising her dream of an artistic career.
There are two problems with this novel. The first 150 pages move at such a slow pace that readers other than dedicated reviewers might give the book up. It would be a pity if many readers did abandon the book, since after the first 150 pages the pace picks up and momentum is developed. It is thereafter a story worth the telling, No doubt de la Cruz has paced the build-up of her text to the moment when Liv’s eating disorder is revealed. But the development is simply too slow. This reviewer also found some instances where the author seems unaware of modern conventions concerning terminology. Frieda Kahlo, who has polio, is referred to as a ‘cripple’. And when Liv damages an ankle, one of her friends calls her a ‘gimp’. Although in real life young people may sometimes use such expressions, using them without authorial comment in a novel for young readers is not helpful in mounting challenges to stereotypes.