Theresa is a smart, cynical girl, just turning 18 and graduating high school. She is in the throes of a tumultuous romance with a changeable boy named Randy. Meanwhile James, the young man who lives next door, is madly in love with her and everybody knows it. When Randy decides to take another girl to her best friend’s graduation party, Theresa invites James as a way of making Randy jealous. They reunite halfway through the party and James, who had truly deluded himself into thinking he and Theresa would be a couple, drives his motorcycle off a cliff.
The next few months of Theresa’s life are lived in a kind of self-imposed, tortured exile. She shaves her head, loses thirty pounds, changes her name and “leaves herself,” running off to San Simeon, CA to live a destructive life of cigarettes and alcohol. But when an 11-year-old girl in her trailer park faces similar guilt, Theresa can no longer hide from her past. Together they go off seeking a new home for the girl, absolution from James’s mother, and a chance for both of them to find some kind of peace.
During the first third of the book, I did not really care to much for Theresa, as I thought she was a bit stuck up and didn't really think of anyone but herself. She was so wrapped up in making her ex-boyfriend jealous that she had no interest for a boy who was doing everything in his power to gain her affection. Then, when she decides to make her ex, Randy, jealous by using James as arm candy at her best friend's, Frieda's, party. Of course her plan backfired and she wound up hurting James, setting the tone for the rest of the book.
The second third of the book I really enjoyed. She took drastic measures by shaving her head, changing her identity, and leaving home. I loved reading about the new life she had managed to build up for herself in San Simone. Theresa was searching for herself in this half and met many lovable characters. Todd, a boy she is obviously quite interested in but refuses to allow herself that pleasure, is a great character even though we only saw him briefly in the book. One of my favorite characters, besides Theresa (yes, by the second half I have come to enjoy her), is Cathy, or as Theresa calls her, The Kid. When we first meet her she is a liar through and through, but with good intentions. She attaches herself to Theresa and starts to slowly try to become her doing things like smoking (which Theresa started after she left her home) and shaving her hair; mind you, this girl is younger, only about 12 or so.
In the third and final part of the book Theresa has returned home, as she ran from her 'new life' and back to her old one, hoping things would be even the slightest bit better. In this part I was hoping to see more of a growth from Theresa, but instead, I saw more from The Kid. Yes, Theresa did discover, by meeting James' mother, that James had been depressed his entire life and his death was not her fault, but that did not help what was in her head much. When she left The Kid with her grandmother and was driving down the coast she happened upon 'The Place'; where James died. I think it was in these last few sentences of the book where I really saw Theresa change...and I knew she would be okay.
Overall, I thought the book was a great book, though at points a little slow. I enjoyed the style of writing and I think the author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, captured the emotion a person would go through when someone they care for commits suicide perfectly. It never really makes sense to a person, and it certainly didn't make sense to Theresa. I think if you haven't read this book you should, as it is a fantastic read.