Author Catherine Lo’s debut novel tells the story of Jessie and Annie, two 15-year-olds who become fast friends when Annie, a downtown girl, moves to the suburbs where Jessie’s lived all her life. Jessie is a lonely kid with anxiety who has been the target of her school’s mean girls for several years. She has a hard time trusting people, but clicks with Annie, who accepts her just as she is as.
Lo captures the rush of quickly falling into a close friendship, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when the bond is broken after Annie starts hanging out with the girls who have been tormenting Jessie. Over the subsequent chapters (written alternately from the viewpoints of Jessie and Annie) readers are provided with nuanced insight into how each girl feels about their falling out, and, later, Annie’s unplanned pregnancy, the bullying she faces online and in real life because of it, and her decision to have an abortion.
The shortness of the chapters keeps the story moving along, as does Lo’s writing, for the most part. The flashback scene where Annie learns about her mother’s death is particularly well done; by this point we know she’s been killed, but this doesn’t make the scene any less painful. But by the end of the book, which wraps up a little too neatly, it feels like Lo has run out of steam. The dialogue comes off a bit stiffly, and Lo’s choice to use “lezzie” as a slur could ring false to those readers who find name-calling based on someone’s sexuality unrealistic these days. But then, Lo spent 12 years working with at-risk teenagers in a behaviour support program, so she clearly knows what 15-year-olds are dealing with. That insight and experience shows in How It Ends.