May survived the day she hid in the closet of her band room at school. Seven other people didn’t, including her twin brother, Jordan. Her brother, the one with almost perfect SAT scores, the genius of the family, the one her father pinned all his hopes on, gone in seconds, and she hid like a coward. It’s a day May relives over and over again, and the guilt she has for being a survivor, one of the Lucky Ones, is too much to handle. Her guilt has morphed into pure anger- she’s been kicked out of school and homeschooled for a bit. Now she’s starting a new one where she’ll see old classmates from Carter. Her school closed after the shooting, and the students were distributed to other high schools in the area. Her only source of sanity is her BFF, Lucy. But right now, Lucy isn’t on board with another graffiti/property damage of the lawyer defending David, the school shooter, so May leaves a not so subtle message on the garage door without her.
Zach is barely surviving. He woke up to yet another slander painted on his garage door and knows that it will be up to him to remove it. His dad hasn’t done anything but sleep and wake up to eat the last few years and his mom? Well, she’s too busy defending a guilty school shooter even to notice that someone keeps painting “Bitch” on their garage door. At school, Zach is on the outs with most of his friends because of his mom’s decision, except Conor, a kid with family problems of his own.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that May and Zach fall for each other. It’s not hard and fast but messy, slow, complicated, and a strange comfort to both. The two meet while Lucy is auditioning for Conor’s band, and while it’s not a love connection at first, it is something that causes May’s anger to wane a bit and for Zach to feel not so alone all the time. And, while there is romance in this story, it’s not the focus. May is still dealing with the guilt she has for that day, along with some secrets of her own. And they are BIG. Really big. But she can’t start to get better until she tells someone and against all the odds, Zach happens to be the one she trusts with her secrets.
This story is about healing, or at least starting that process. Both May, Zach, and their respective families have some serious issues to work through. By the end of the story, that’s starting to happen. The little reminders that May deals with at school, like the picture memorial of the slain students, the smiles of friends of friends who died, and the faces of pity she sees daily, cannot be easy. But what May slowly realizes, and I do mean slowly, is that she isn’t the only one dealing with this kind of loss. Liz Lawson’s author’s notes are a type of epigraph to all the children stolen from life because of a school shooting. She reminds the reader that “75 percent of Gen-Zers who responded (to a survey from the American Psychological Association) said mass shootings are a major source of stress in their lives, and 21 percent often worry about school shootings, specifically.” I’m in education. I never want to experience this. Ever. I don’t want ANYONE to suffer this, but it’s books like these that will help if that time ever comes.