Cash and Delaney are best friends. Cash’s mother has died some years before the story opens as a result of a drug overdose. Cash is haunted by the memory of his mother’s death. The mother of Delaney is currently addicted to drugs. Cash lives with his maternal grandparents, whom he adores. His father is notably absent from the plot.
Delaney makes a remarkable discovery. In a cave she finds a fungus from which it is possible to synthesise a new form of penicillin. On the basis of her discovery she is offered a scholarship to Middleford Academy, an elite American high school. Delaney accepts the scholarship on one condition, that the Academy also offers a funded scholarship to Cash, a condition which this reviewer found to strain the boundaries of credibility. When the Academy makes the offer, the question is whether Cash will accept it? And if he does, what lessons will he learn at this elite place of education?
Zentner’s novel delivers a powerful exploration of the feeling of grief, and just how raw that sentiment can become. The book also delivers a memorable demonstration of the power that words can have to stir and to heal. The book is also a rarity in that it does not deride or mock teenagers who nurture ambitions in academic fields. Finally Zentner must be applauded for creating some convincing relationships between different generations. At times this book is genuinely painful to read. But it will unfailingly uplift the reader as it reaches its conclusions.