Kendra’s life has always been overshadowed by her older brother’s mental illness. Grayson has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Endless counting, repeated showers and hand-washing, and ceaseless anxiety and panic attacks have forced the very intelligent young man to drop out of high school and enter numerous treatment centers. But nothing seems to help. The illness has always lurked inside of him, but it spiraled out of control after the huge blow-up with the neighbors, causing them to move away and leaving both Kendra and Grayson without their best friend, Zoe. Ever since then, the family’s world revolves around Grayson’s illness. To make up for her brother’s shortcomings and find a bit of sun while cast beneath his shadow, Kendra strives to be the perfect sibling.
"The plot firmly holds the reader’s interest with splashes of comedy, unforeseen road bumps and surprising detours. Brown also cleverly uses flashbacks and the 'show, don’t tell' rule to pull the reader in and hold on tight."
But then Kendra screws up majorly, and soon the entire school and her parents will know the truth. She panics and does the only thing she can think of: she runs away, taking Grayson with her. Perhaps if she pushes him past his comfort level and doesn’t enable him like her parents do, she can cure him. Or at least make him better. Then they could have a normal family, and her perfection wouldn’t be so necessary or her mistake so devastating. So she and the uncooperative Grayson hit the highway with their mom’s credit card, a bit of cash, and an outlandish goal --- to drive from Missouri to California to find Zoe.
Of course, running away creates a whole new set of obstacles. There’s the flat tire, the frantic phone calls from the parents, the restaurant that refuses their credit card, and the young mother and baby they pick up on the side of the road. Occasionally, Grayson seems to be making strides towards improvement, while other times not so much. In fact, Kendra realizes her huge mistake in forgetting to bring his medicine. But she’s determined to accomplish the ultimate goal of finding Zoe. Surely, once the three of them are all together again, everything will be better, right? Maybe not. Either way, though, her reputation as the perfect sibling is forever shattered.
Author Jennifer Brown is responsible for this heart-touching journey into a unique and rocky sibling relationship. She handles the mental illness topic with sensitivity, wisdom and realism. She also manages to find the severity and humor, the misery and hope, the impossibilities and the prospects that bind such a family together dealing with similar issues. Brown’s characters are the stars of the show, filled with vivid color, multiple depths, and lots of rough edges. The bond between Grayson and Kendra bucks and cracks, but finally manages to begin the healing.
The plot firmly holds the reader’s interest with splashes of comedy, unforeseen road bumps and surprising detours. Brown also cleverly uses flashbacks and the “show, don’t tell” rule to pull the reader in and hold on tight. Add in the vibrant imagery and deep symbolism woven throughout, and this amazing book is sure to win multiple awards.
Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on September 21, 2012