Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Review: Harmless

Dana Reinhardt created a splash last year with her charming and brilliant first novel, a brief chapter in my impossible life. (review) I'm happy to report that her second YA novel, Harmless, is equally accomplished.

Harmless is much darker than a brief chapter in my impossible life. In the grand tradition of I Know What You Did Last Summer, it's the story of a lie and its consequences.

Three ninth-grade girls narrate the story and tell the lie--that they were attacked and one of them nearly raped. Each of the girls is insecure and unsure of herself. Anna is a coddled and much-loved only child who has never been popular. Her best friend Emma was transported to their small town--a town anchored by a college and CompuCorp--and misses New York City desperately. Like Anna, she has two loving parents. Unlike Anna, her parents argue, and they moved away from the city a few years earlier because of a sexual harassment charge against her father. New girl Mariah shows up at Orsonville Day School because her mother marries a wealthy man Mariah does not like much.

Mariah rebels by hooking up with a public school kid named D.J. When she invites Anna and Emma to a party, the lies begin. At first, Anna and Emma tell their parents that they are at one another's house. When they're finally caught, the lie is told.

Reinhardt is particularly skilled at first-person narration. Each girl's voice is so distinct, that I no longer had to read the chapter title by the time I was halfway through the novel. Emma is confused and hurt. Anna is intelligent and self-absorbed. Mariah is angry and desires attention, but is good at heart. What I especially appreciated about Harmless is that these girls are recognizable. Yes, they've each had a problem or two, but nothing drastic or unusual enough to explain away their lie. As Mariah says:

  • "I know it sounds crazy now, but that night, making up the lie seemed like the easy way out. A harmless little lie. You've told lies before, haven't you? I ask them. Everyone's told lies. It was just that I was unable to see, right then, that the lie would gather speed and its current would carry it further and further away from me."

Harmless is highly recommended for teen readers ages thirteen and up. There is some sexual content.


Review copy supplied by the publisher.