Circle the Soul Softly by Davida Wills Hurwin
4Q 3P J/S
Katie O'Connor is starting a new school, thanks to her mother's upcoming marriage. Katie is desperately hoping that at this school, she won't be the clumsy, uncool girl she was at her old school. But pretty much as soon as she walks into the school, it appears that's made herself some enemies. The cool girls obviously don't like her. The situation only gets worse when Katie auditions for the school play and knocks everyone's socks off. That means she gets the part that Stacie (nasty cool crowd girl) thinks should have gone to her, or at least to one of her cool crowd friends. Getting the part does great things for Katie's self-esteem, but not much at all for her social life. But she does meet David while doing the play. At first it seems as though that's going nowhere, but after the play is over and she's pretty much given up all hope of having friends, let alone a boyfriend, the two start dating.
Over the next few months, David and Katie gradually grow closer. One of the things that brings them together is discovering Stacie's diary, which helps them understand why Stacie gets drunk, makes out (and more) with pretty much any guy, why she took too many pills at a party one night, and why she's so nasty and angry all the time. David knows the right thing to do. They turn the diary over to their drama teacher, Tess, who can get Stacie the help she needs. David is good at knowing the right thing to do. He knows how to sweet talk Katie's mom and, most of all, he knows how to romance Katie just right. Katie is sure he's the one for her. She's definitely sure that she wants to make love for the first time with David. But for some reason, when they try, Katie freezes. It's almost like she goes into a shell. She doesn't understand why. She loves David. She wants to make love to him. Why does her heart say one thing and her body and brain another?*
There's something called the Actor's Nightmare, which consists of dreaming that you're alone on stage and unable to remember a single line of your part. It's terrifying to realize that you don't remember something you know you ought to remember. It takes Katie a long time to realize that there are things she ought to remember and doesn't, that there are missing pieces in her life, and that she's living a real-life version of the actor's nightmare. When she finally does realize it, she doesn't know what it means. But little by little, she starts putting the pieces together, and she's devastated by what she discovers. Maybe she and Stacie have more in common than either one of them could have ever guessed.
Hurwin handles this story sensitively and well. From what I've read about this situation, characters react in realistic ways (well, except perhaps for David at times...see my * note below). I like the way that Katie's relationship with her brother changes over time, and it's nice to see a stepfather who is a good guy. Katie's relationship with her mother feels real, in that there's a good balance between bickering and love. When the truth comes out, that relationship takes a hit, but both women are strong enough to withstand it. As Hurwin has shown before (A Time for Dancing), she has a delicate touch with her writing. She knows how to press the buttons, but she caresses them, she doesn't stomp on them.
* (This is where David is just a little too good to be true. He's very, very understanding about this, where most adolescent boys would probably be very frustrated and angry.)