Callie spent most of her childhood believing her father is after her. She’s never been to school, never had any real friends. Anytime there’s a whiff of suspicion, her mother whisks them away to a new town, new trashy job, new sleazy boyfriend.
Then the truth comes in the form of an arrest warrant for her mom. In a blink, Callie finds herself living with her estranged dad, his new wife and their two small children, right smack in the middle of a large, loud, loving Greek family. For the first time, someone cares whether Callie comes or goes. She has friends, if she can crack the code on how to keep them. And she might even have her first real date!
The relationship between Callie and her dad is really moving. Here’s this man who hasn’t seen his daughter in so many years, who wants so badly to reconnect with her. Here’s this girl whose entire life has been turned upside down, who worries that accepting the father she didn’t know she had means betraying her mom, who’s sick and needs her more than anyone. That tug-of-war was so well-crafted and believable. There’s a lot of threads about reconciliation between estranged family members and the importance of family and community. Those were great themes and very well-executed.
While in the care of her mother, Callie was sexually abused by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. This leaves deep emotional scars. She starts hooking up (meeting to have sex with) guys as a young teenager, even though afterward she feels used and dirty. On one such quest, she lucks out and meets a guy who not only takes her to bed the first time they spend any time together, but also wants to build a relationship with her and cares very deeply for her, despite his playboy reputation.
This does show Callie learning to build trust and to experience sex within a safe, loving relationship, which is so healing. At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking that in real life, a girl can sleep with many, many guys hoping that the next day they’ll turn out to stick around. It’s probably not the best way to find a good guy. Conservative me couldn’t help wishing she’d found that he was a good guy first and built that trust first.
Besides that, though, I felt really connected with Callie’s emotional journey. I loved her demonstrative family, and the vividly described setting. It has more sexual content than books I’ve read by Sarah Dessen, but the strong heroine and deep emotional journey reminded me of her stories. If you’re a Dessen fan, you may want to check out this book.
Callie becomes sexually active in her early teens. She briefly recounts those experiences as well as memories of childhood sexual abuse. The abuse memories are pretty intense. A boy kisses Callie later in the story and she immediately takes off her shirt. She meets another young man and has sex with him without knowing much more than his name. The descriptions of her encounters are fairly short and not super graphic, but there are some details given. Another couple engages in a pretty heavy make-out session on the couch, but few details are given.
Much of the sexual element in the story is really about Callie’s abuse and the process she experiences to learn how to have a healthy relationship with sex.
Callie’s family attend a Greek Orthodox Church and encourage her to attend with them, but don’t pressure her. Callie really isn’t into the spiritual stuff.
Callie witnesses a man smacking his adult son.
Callie’s mom hangs around some pretty unsavory bars and probably drinks too much. Callie and her friends drink alcohol. They are all under 21.