Two teenagers meet on the first day of sixth form. Luke Bressan is intelligent and good-looking, but he has two problems: having spent six years in foster care he is wary of physical contact, and he has epilepsy. Esther Wilson also has two problems, maybe more serious than Luke’s: her family is highly religious (though her own faith is beginning to waver) and her father is headmaster of the school.
The meeting of Luke and Esther is a spectacular event. Luke takes his place at the very first lesson of the new school year and the stress of the situation leads him to have a seizure. Esther has worked as a volunteer on a special needs summer scheme at the school where her mother teaches, and she knows what to do. Embarrassingly for Luke, in the seizure he loses control of his bladder.
The two become close, but then a popular girl named Jasmine invites them to one of her parties. At the party Esther and Luke kiss. While Esther is willing to go further, Luke is reluctant, his response conditioned in part by his medical condition and in part by the wariness he acquired from being in care. When Esther has departed, Luke and Jasmine kiss.
Luke then convinces himself that he has committed a serious crime. The narrative explores what he has or hasn’t done and how Esther helps him unveil the truth.
The strength of this remarkable book derives from the credibility of its characters. It is a daunting task to depict in fiction a character with a serious medical problem who nevertheless commands the reader’s absolute attention, but Wilkinson succeeds. Esther is quiet and sensible, far removed from the ditsy-if-pretty heroine of teen fiction, and she walks through these pages with memorable resolution and perceptiveness.
Girls like Esther rarely get the boy in teen fiction; boys like Luke are usually the victims. These two stereotypes are smashed to pieces in this book.