Zentner understands survivor’s guilt at the deepest level. This is a story about the tragic deaths of three teenagers and the impact it has on the fourth friend and their families. Carver Briggs feels responsible for the death of his three best friends. He distracted the driver, Eli, with a text. Eli then crashed the vehicle and killed all the occupants. Each family responds differently to the deaths of their children and to Carver’s involvement.
But the story is really about Carver dealing with grief, death, fear and loneliness. Zentner describes a panic attack so vividly that you may catch yourself tensing in response. The only person who Carver can socialize with his the bereaved girlfriend of Eli, the driver. This raises complicated issues and feelings.
Blake’s grandmother, Betsy, asks Carver to spend the day reliving her special moments with her grandson, whom she has raised since four years of age. Carver, who is barely coping has mixed feelings about this event but agrees for the sake of the grandmother. This opens up a whole new can of worms with the other parents of the deceased teenagers.
The author stops the book from becoming a dirge by interspersing chapters of Carver’s silly, happy memories with his friends. But, the author also adds to the tension by raising the possibility that Carver will be sent to jail for his part in the deaths.
Zentner tells a story with great sensitivity and insight. The emotional depth portrayed by the protagonist and the other characters is realistic, insightful, and unforgettable. No matter whether you believe Carver contributed to the deaths or not, you will root for this young man in hopes that he can put his life back together. You will quickly become invested in the story and find yourself curling up in a corner and refusing to move until you are finished.