Nora Raleigh Baskin is one of those books. It deals with a lot of big issues, grief, forgiveness, and teen sexuality.
Sophomore Maggie Paris is a bit of an enigma. She's a star on the swim team, but she doesn't always seem to like it. She has one loyal friend in Julie. Everyone else keeps their distance from Maggie. Why? Maggie's mere presence has the ability to bring out the best and the worst in people. When Maggie is around, fellow students feel the need to be honest about their deepest secrets. Sometimes they don't want to reveal those secrets. Maggie's parents are no different. Her parents spend more time arguing than dealing with their feelings. The whole family is avoiding the elephant in room.
Maggie was just five years old when her big sister Leah drowned. Ever since that day, Maggie and her parents have been harboring feelings of guilt. It was already a marriage in trouble before Leah's death, and after was no different. They had twin boys, Dylan and Lucas, following her death, but that did little to save the family. If you don't deal with the underlying problems, how can you truly move on? Maggie just seemed to be barely holding it together. She needed some kind of guidance. Her parents love her, but they're too involved in their own mess to see what's wrong with their daughter. Her still developing teenage brain comes up with a wild plan.
Maggie sets her sights on Matthew, a self-absorbed jock. If she has sex with him, somehow her life will be better. She will become a "woman." She will somehow have all the answers. Maybe the guilt surrounding Maggie's death will go away. This part of Maggie's personality and character just didn't seem to fit with the book. Maggie and Matthew's interactions didn't seem like normal teenage behavior. Matthew was a jerk and he dominated the relationship. What he did to Maggie seemed more like rape to me. She's not really sure she wants to have sex with Matthew, and when they do she spaces out. Mentally, she's not even there when Matthew is on top of her. Matthew appears indifferent or not satisfied by her, and Maggie thinks that's her fault. If she can be better at "it," then Matthew will like her. She starts dating another boy, Nathan, but only wants to use him as practice for her budding relationship with Matthew. Nathan truly cares for her, but sometimes Maggie doesn't see it until it's too late. I just felt so bad for Maggie and for teenagers like her. A boyfriend or girlfriend truly isn't the best way to measure your self-worth.
The book alternates between the past and the present. Leah's character also narrates part of the book. In the past, Leah and Maggie had a typical sibling relationship. As the oldest Leah was always annoyed by her little sister. But you can see they loved each other. Back then Maggie was a happier child. Now, she's a teen in need of guidance. I wish the book was a little longer. I wanted more on the sibling relationship and her relationship with Julie. It's not a bad, it's actually pretty good. I just wish there was more.
Rating: Give it a try
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Candlewick Press) in exchange for an honest review.