Kirsten’s comfortable middle-class world is drifting away from its anchors: her parents quarrel viciously, her best friend has deserted her and her weight is spiralling out of control – she feels impotent and worthless.
Just as her isolation at school and the unrest at home begin to bite she forms an unlikely alliance with Walker, a black scholarship boy from a one-parent family: each of them outsiders, each of them telling their own story.
Choldenko utilises the dual narrative skilfully, illuminating rather than over-exposing the chain of events. She explores issues of race, identity and friendship with clarity and veracity, especially when she uses as her vehicle the dynamics of American High School life.
However, the sudden revelation that Walker is Kirsten’s half-brother lacks credibility and the subsequent resolution between the two characters necessarily feels artificially accelerated. However, Choldenko raises her game at the very end of the book when Kirsten, empowered by her father’s belief in her ‘brilliant heart’, helps Walker to understand that it is not how people react to an event which is important – the power lies in the impact of the event itself.
Walker demonstrates his new-found belief most tellingly in his response to an essay question set by his English teacher: ‘If a tree falls and no-one hears it, does it make a sound?’ – ‘Trees make the sound they do whether anyone is out there hearing them or not. To say to a tree, “Hey, tree, you don’t exist if nobody hears you”… That’s just plain dumb.’