Hayley Rose Kincain is an American girl of 17. She has been travelling with her widower father Andrew, who is a war veteran. Andrew was fighting in Afghanistan and is now suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and from alcoholism. Given the seriousness of his problems the teenage Hayley is very much the carer.
Andrew’s problem with alcohol is also shared by Trish, a woman who cared for Hayley when her mother died. Hayley was then aged seven. Trish accompanied her through many childhood stages, such as learning to ride a bike. At a critical point however Trish departed, leaving Hayley feeling lost and betrayed.
In her final high school year most of Hayley’s marks are disappointing. But her scores in preparation to study calculus are especially abysmal. She needs individual tutoring. A boy, Finn, is chosen as her tutor and turns out to be helpful and amusing – though not much a respecter of rules. He is quite willing to take Hayley to places she is not supposed to visit and to teach her to swim, something he was not requested to do.
The characters – teenage and adult – embark on a voyage of self-discovery. They must learn to realise their own lives in a world riven by tension and must establish viable relationships with each other.
Anderson’s narrative capability makes these characters live and renders them credible multi-dimensional beings, a substantial feat of creativity. The narrative pace is sustained most of the time but occasionally flags, leaving the reader to make the effort of traversing some testing passages. Variations in pace are needed in an intense story like Hayley’s, but sometimes the breathing space is too long.
The book ends with two characters facing mortal danger, brought together by the common fate they might share. This is a scene (along with others in this book) that seems custom-made for the cinema screen. Producers, please bring out your cheque books.