Note: I was provided with this book via NetGalley by the publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Stella Chavez is a fairly ordinary girl until she meets Ruby Caroline. She gets pretty good grades, has friends she's grown up with, and is a soccer star. New girl Ruby, on the other hand, is trouble with a capital T, right from the moment she storms into her first class wearing a band-aid of a skirt and swearing like a trooper. There's something about Ruby, though, that draws Stella to her, and the pair quickly become inseparable. But as Ruby's behaviour gets more and more erratic, and she's drawn into bad habits and an unsuitable relationship, can Stella save her friend - or will she get dragged down with her?
This is a fairly short but seriously intense read, with a couple of extremely strong scenes which are amongst the most gruelling I've ever read in a YA novel. It also benefits from some absolutely superb characters. Narrator Stella is wonderful - a realistically mixed-up 17 year old, struggling with the pressures of school, applying to college, a new boyfriend, an absent father and a beguiling new friend in Ruby. Ruby herself is just as good - far from being a stereotypical screwed up teenager, she's well-rounded, her relationship with her mother is particularly interesting, and I love the way she bonds with Stella's family. Speaking of Stella's family, I also developed a huge soft spot for both her hard-working mother and her younger sister Jackie. Every character, though, was very realistic - as was the novel as a whole - and as a modern coming-of-age story this ranks up there with the best of them.
Guerra's writing style is really readable and it's a fast-paced book which had me completely gripped. If I'm being hyper-critical the ending seems a little bit rushed (although I was partly sore because I didn't really want it to end at all!) - but it is very, very good and as a debut novel shows an incredible amount of promise for Stephanie Guerra. I think I've read a dozen or so books via NetGalley, and while there have been others I've really enjoyed - notably Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - this is the first which will have me getting the print copy on release day so that I can read it again and again. Oh, one brief warning - while I'm convinced teens will absolutely devour this, their parents may want to steer well clear unless they want some sleepless nights!
Extremely strong recommendation, I can't wait to get my hands on Guerra's next book!