CJ Witmore seems to have the perfect life, but being the son of a Hollywood star means keeping a dark family secret. Despite constant pleas from his girlfriend, CJ refuses to share that part of his life, fearful that if she learns the truth, his whole world will crumble.
Enter Emily, a girl CJ meets at the worst possible time, as he’s being triggered by an upsetting phone call. Although CJ’s first interaction with Emily is a disaster, he finds her intriguing. Hell, he may even like her, but he’s soon forced to ask himself: Who is Emily? What is she hiding? It seems Emily has secrets of her own.
When CJ learns the details of his Dad’s impending marriage, he’s no longer able to think of just himself. CJ must do whatever it takes to protect a boy he barely knows, even if it means putting himself at risk. He’s forced to face his past and decide once and for all if his secrets are everyone’s business or nobody’s business.
Plot: CJ, a victim of child sex abuse at the hands of his movie star father and his father’s friend, is a tormented teenager trying to make sense of what happened to him and to figure out how to move forward in his relationship with his girlfriend Meg. But Dad’s still in his life, and his younger sister Miranda’s, because he provides the money, and no one ever talks about what happened with Dad, or Ivan, or that twelve-year-old girl, or his sister. It is, CJ believes, nobody’s business. This is a difficult novel that tackles a difficult subject and Duddridge does not pull her punches. She writes about child sexual abuse and the grooming of children to be the victims of their abusers with clarity and obvious expertise, perhaps fueled by her work in Justice and Law Enforcement. Her sympathy for CJ is palpable, yet she never detracts from his agency or his responsibility to find a way forward.
Prose/Style: The vocabulary and syntax make this a very easy to read novel, accessible to early elementary school age children. Because of the extremely explicit content, parents and school librarians will have to decide whether it is appropriate for their kids.
Originality: CJ has a lot to deal with—rage against his father, ambivalence toward a fragile mother who blames him instead of protecting him, confusion about his own sexuality, guilt over what he did and what was done to him. It is a rare YA novel that takes so much on in such a straightforward way.
Character Development/Execution: The struggle to attain a healthy maturity is challenging for every teen, but CJ has a particularly difficult history to overcome. Duddridge explicates his journey with compassion and honesty.
Date Submitted: July 22, 2021