Summary: When sixteen-year-old Yin Mitchell is abducted, the news reverberates through the whole tenth grade class at Balmoral Ladies College. As the hours tick by, the girls know the chance of Yin being found alive is becoming smaller and smaller. Everyone in school is affected by Yin’s disappearance—even scholarship student Chloe, who usually stays out of Balmoral dramas, is drawn into the maelstrom. And when she begins to form an uneasy alliance with Natalia, the queen of Tenth Grade, things start to get even more complicated.
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Rating: 5/5 stars
I walked into this book assuming it would be a young-adult contemporary with a thriller subgenre tagged on to appeal to the masses. What I didn’t expect was to fall absolutely in love with these characters. I didn’t expect to feel their grief with them, to root for them, to encourage their empowerment. There’s something truly magical in Hall’s writing that showcases the struggles and grief that the girls in this story are up against while still being forced to maintain some level of normalcy.
Race is such an important element of this story. Chloe is a biracial scholarship student at a ladies college who has never quite fit in but always managed to stay under the radar. When a fellow classmate, Yin, goes missing, Chloe channels her confusion, hurt, and fear into her art, which causes controversy with the other girls at her school. Chloe is clearly an outsider here, not only because of her race, but also because she never found a group of friends to settle in with. Hall tackles these elements effortlessly and realistically. Chloe’s white classmates make comments that there are too many Asian girls in their school, and while Chloe is half-Asian, she struggles to fit in with either part of her race. When discussing Yin’s disappearance, Chloe’s mother tells her that people of color are generally given less (media) attention over their disappearances, but that it’s especially true for those of Asian descent.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Natalia, a wealthy white girl who rules the school with her “posse.” She’s blunt and often mean-spirited, but quickly forms a relationship with Chloe amidst her grief of the disappearance of a childhood friend. Despite, and truthfully because of, the confusion and anger both girls feel, they become a unanimous force. Chloe and Natalia are polar opposites, but grief is funny in that it can tie two people together. Watching their relationship blossom was as interesting as it was heartbreaking, as both girls contrasted and complemented each other well but knowingly would not have befriended each other under any other circumstances.
There’s also an impressive amount of inclusivity here, even in the slightest of nods. There are biracial characters, bisexual girls, gay girls, and even a miniscule background character with a gender-neutral name and they/them pronouns. The character only exists for maybe two paragraphs, but it’s enough to be appreciative of a writer who isn’t afraid to be inclusive with their writing.
This is a heart-wrenching story of girls who are forced to deal with loss, who are expected to maintain a level of normalcy with their friends and school, who are terrified that they could be taken next. Both girls are incredibly powerful in their actions and choices, and despite this being such a heavy topic, it was refreshing to be able to root for both of them.
I turn next to the book about Chinese female artists, called Half the Sky. Brave women who worked in private without acclaim, who made large-scale ink works, who shocked everyone by shooting their own artwork with real bullets at an exhibition opening. The introductory essay explains that the title is based on the Mao Zedong quote: Women hold up half the sky.
If women hold up half the sky, then why are we so disposable?