The summer between junior and senior year in high school is a crossroads for many people, but perhaps especially so for Serena Velasco and her best (and only) friend, Melody Grimshaw. Both of them have just failed Western Civ—Serena because she prefers to use her considerable intelligence and anti-authoritarian outlook to challenge her teacher’s pro-democracy viewpoints, and Melody because she believes on some level that she, like all the Grimshaws before her, is fated to never graduate from high school.
The Grimshaws have a bad reputation in Colchis, the small, economically depressed upstate New York town where they live. Serena doesn’t care about public opinion, but that’s easy for her to say. Her mother is the school principal, and her stepfather is a realtor, so although they still need to worry about money, they are worlds away from Melody and the rest of the Grimshaws. Serena knows that she could easily go to college and even get a scholarship if she only applied herself. Melody’s road out of Colchis is much less obvious. She is a talented dancer, but without means or opportunity, how can she pursue her talent and her dream?
Tolman’s debut novel is mature and sophisticated, both in its subject matter, which is frequently dark, and in its narrative structure. The chronology covers a little over a year, and the prose, especially near the novel’s end, is beautifully ambiguous. At the heart of this sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding novel, however, is a realistic portrait of two friends coming to terms with the widening gulf between their future paths, and navigating whether and how they can reconverge.