Eight years ago on prom night, 16 year-old Jennifer Gardner tried to stop Bobby, her boyfriend’s best friend, from driving drunk. She took his keys and he tried to kiss her, just in time for her also-drunk boyfriend Neal Cain to find them. Neal and Bobby fought, ending with Bobby hitting his head on the curb and dying from the trauma.
In the courtroom, Neal pled guilty to spare everyone the pain of a trial, but pastor’s daughter Jennifer went off the rails, becoming a runaway, drinking and drugging, eventually finding herself pregnant at 18 with no idea who fathered her child. Neal stayed in prison, refusing to consider applying for early release, and his lawyer father finally refused to watch his son rot in prison as amends for the fight.
After Neal’s release from prison, he founds a legal aid center to help the poorest of the poor fight the system. He hasn’t spoken to his father in years, and when he finds out his father has become a drunken recluse and is dying, his world is thrown into a tailspin, and he is at risk of jeopardizing several cases.
Jennifer got help when she discovered she was pregnant, and became a social worker to work with teens to keep them out of trouble. She recently moved back home to be near her parents and work with a youth group at her father’s church. Living down her past and acknowledging the damage done to her father’s career was not easy, but the kids like her, even if their parents don’t.
Driving home one night, Jennifer almost runs down a drunken man looking for his dog. Realizing that it’s Nathan, Neal’s dad, she is shocked to see the man who used to be her father’s friend. She takes him home and after seeing how run-down and filthy his house is, decides she needs to help him. Of course he refuses and demands she leave him alone, but Jennifer won’t be daunted. Neal eventually shows up and is also surprised at the squalor his father lives in, but he gets thrown out, too.
Jennifer and Neal run into each other, and there’s a lot of whys and hows to get through, and they reveal what’s happened in their lives since that fateful night. They talk, kiss, argue, worry about Nathan, lather, rinse, repeat. While all this is going on, Traci one of Jennifer’s youth group attendees tells her about her “friend” who is having sex with a man (not boy) who isn’t her boyfriend (Brett), and he doesn’t use any protection, and Tra-, er, her friend would like some advice, because she doesn’t think they should having unprotected sex. And then Traci reveals that SHE is her friend and might have missed a period.
Now we get pages of Jennifer thinking about Traci and her predicament, and telling Traci to talk to her parents, because yeah, they will really be glad to know that their underage daughter was stepping out on her high school sweetheart. Traci told her lover that she was pregnant, and he hit her in the face and threw her out. Traci tells Jennifer that she wants an abortion, and mentally, Jennifer thinks that she won’t try to hinder Traci from making that choice, even as she totally does.
The rest of the book: Traci tells her parents that she’s pregnant, leaves to stay with Jennifer’s parents, then talks to Nathan and realizes that she can’t run away from problems. Bobby’s brother, Jeremy, drives his car into Jennifer’s car as revenge, but Traci’s driving and she has a miscarriage and reconciles with her parents. Brett doesn’t hate her. Jennifer gets all the parents angry at her and she quits her job. Neal does something, but it’s all Traci, Traci, Traci, so I kind of lost track of him. Nathan dies, but not before the townspeople are able to clean up his house and grounds; he lapses into a coma and dies the day after they get done.
I just couldn’t get emotionally involved in this story. There was too much outside conflict that didn’t really move the romantic relationship along, which was too bad, because there was potential in the plot. I can’t say that I liked either character all that much: Jennifer was too busy trying to solve everyone’s problems, and you know what happened with Neal. Grade: D
This review was apart of the TBR Challenge 2010. Please make sure to visit the other participant’s in the challenge and enjoy!
Update: This was Senetra’s review. I just updated the info. My apologies for the confusion.