Emily is nineteen, attracted to Tom, son of her parent's acquaintances, Andrea and Tony Raine. While the Raine's file for divorce, Tom's married cousin, Simon, and his wife, Rachel, live with Andrea temporarily to help her prepare for the single life, her residence across the street from Emily's house. On the cusp of womanhood, Emily's attraction to Tom is mostly external, based on his striking handsomeness, their endless evenings of dancing, drinking and drugs a shadow romance. Emily isn't ready for commitment or love, content to drift along in a shallow, if physically satisfying relationship. Whenever Tom manifests any complications, Emily chooses ignorance, unwilling to invest emotionally, carefully aloof. This is the summer before college, the ending of one part of her life, not quite the beginning of another: "I helped myself to all the power of being loved, withy none of the cost to myself."
Emily's parents coexist in a constant state of tension; her father keeps his clothing in the bedroom closet, but sleeps in the guest room, husband and wife's conversations threaded with sarcasm. In contrast, Tom's mother is brittle and angry, her bitterness infecting everyone around her. Suddenly, Emily finds herself longing for intimacy, tired of her parent's stoicism and put off by Andrea's tragic self-indulgence. Emily's social life has always revolved around a clique of club kids, "a them and us fiction... all it was in reality was the possession of Class A and B drugs". When Emily begins a clandestine affair with Simon, her attention is focused on him and she still believes the world will bend to her wishes. This young woman's moral quandary is resolved, if not to her liking, shaped more by reality than fantasy, an indelible lesson: "Blame... is there waiting in your own mind, when you are ready to read it".
But Emily's revival from the dark well of her own ego is tainted by the cost to others, an egocentric girl who has avoided reality, seeking comfort in isolation and passivity. The romance awakens this Sleeping Beauty from a long summer of self, but the affair is rendered almost incidental to her newly realized emotional maturity. Stevenson has a particular knack for the young, hip English dialog, in this case, Emily's ongoing inner commentary as she is swept into her love affair with a married man that erases all her boundaries. This deceptively simple story excises the frail pretensions of youth, finally betrayed by the human flaws that determine our commitments and the consequences of our actions. Emily's coming-of-age is fraught with pain, but significant and impressive, her passport into a more effective adulthood. Stevenson should not be underestimated, her prose both incisive and insightful, diving below the surface of facile relationships to expose fears, denials and shattered dreams. Luan Gaines/2005.