Lorna Schultz nicholson’s third novel for Clockwise Press’s One-2-One series follows Madeline, a 14-year-old with a traumatic brain injury, and Justin, a high school senior still mourning his sister’s death, as they participate in their school’s Best Buddies program.
After falling off her bike and hitting her head when she was eight, Madeline had to relearn how to walk, talk, and even eat, and she still has trouble controlling her speech and emotions. Before her accident, Madeline did everything with her twin sister, Becky. But the girls have grown apart over the years. Now Becky’s wearing all black, smoking, and hanging out with a group of girls Madeline doesn’t know.
Madeline’s partner in the Best Buddies club is Justin, whose autistic sister died after battling an eating disorder. He’s dealing with his mother’s depression and his fears about what to do after high school. When Madeline invites Justin to join her for her miniature-horse therapy program, they help each other face their fears – and get to the bottom of what’s bothering Becky.
Told alternately by Madeline and Justin, the novel moves quickly through a number of plot points: Becky’s transformation (and its disappointingly clichéd origin); Justin’s mother’s depression; Madeline’s relationships with her divorced parents; Justin’s girlfriend Anna’s decision to go away to California for university. Madeline’s changing relationship with Becky is convincingly developed, but the novel would benefit from a deeper look at Justin’s relationship with his mother. Anna (the protagonist of Fragile Bones, another One-2-One novel by Nicholson) functions mostly as a sympathetic ear for Justin, and their impending long-distance relationship is an afterthought amid more interesting plot developments.
Though the dialogue in Justin’s sections tends toward the unrealistic (his narrative voice often sounds far more mature than that of a 17-year-old), Madeline’s chapters shine. Her frustration is relatable and believable, putting a unique spin on typical young-adult novel situations like going to a high school dance. However, Justin’s sections drag, and the subplots and distracting secondary characters make the novel feel rushed and uneven.