You know, whatever else happens with my relationship with Knopf, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for one of their editors – because she sent me free books! And people, there are few things that so earnestly warm a writer’s heart. And, she introduced me to fabulous writers I’d never heard of – Tom & Laura McNeal, a husband and wife YA writing team who have collaborated on three novels that are garnering critical attention. How could have I missed them? They’re amazing! A San Diego paper carried a short piece on the couple, and related one of the true stories of Laura’s experiences in high school, which nominally shaped the novel. She talked of being shunned for no real reason in school, and I thought, ‘This is what I like best about writing YA. It’s that chipping away of the detritus of memories and parleying them into something useful – something someone will pay you for someday. The novel I read today was entitled Crushed. It’s messy, far flung, full of secrets and lies and some scary people. Of course, it’s set in a high school. Where else do all the liars and secret-keepers – and secret spillers — hang out?
Three nerdettes, C.C., Lea and Audrey have come from a small, private school into the wilds of public school their junior year in high school. They know the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. When the teacher’s out of the room, they open their textbooks instead of the latest copy of People. They’re smart. They’re funny… but they’re like pet bunnies that have been released into the woods. High school kids are crazy mean. A few of the girls are words that rhyme with ‘witch,’ and one guy is even stalking Audrey, telling her she’s on his “To Do” list. Ugh! It’s a scary world out there, so the three girls stick together, checking in with each other daily, and promise themselves that one day, those 4.3 GPA’s that they’re carrying will make it all worthwhile.
It’s a good plan, until the cutest boy any of them have ever seen takes a shine to Audrey. Suddenly, school’s not that important. And, okay, he’s got secrets, but Audrey’s got secrets too. She used to be rich, but her Dad lost their big house. Now everything’s going down the tubes.
Of course, that’s nothing compared to his secrets.
And the secrets of others.
Who knew people were so awful, deep down?
An absolutely absorbing, sprawling, messy novel that somehow ties up neatly in the end — not too neatly, but with the sense that mostly justice has been served. Secrets surely tell you a lot about a person… sometimes things you’d rather you didn’t know. I look forward to checking out the rest of the McNeal works, one of which is set in the same town, and the same high school.