For seventeen-year-old Stella Chavez, life revolves around taking care of her younger siblings while her mother works two jobs to support them. Stella is a model student, good soccer player, and has a fairly bright future. She feels like something is missing, though, and when she meets new-girl Ruby Caroline, she’s immediately drawn to her. Ruby is Stella’s opposite, at least when it comes to behavior, and it isn’t long before Stella finds herself torn between her old life and her new friendship with the self-destructive Ruby.
Stephanie Guerra’s debut novel is a moving, authentic take on the complexities of female friendship. It’s an accessible, memorable read that will appeal to many teen readers. Surprising, edgy, and unflinchingly real, this book deserves some attention.
Although the basic premise of Guerra’s novel is one that has been done before, it’s rare that it’s done as well as this one is. What is unique about Guerra’s story is that both her protagonist and the so-called bad-girl are remarkably well-drawn. Both Stella and Ruby are fully-formed characters. Both girls have appealing qualities to their personalities as well as legitimate, authentic flaws. Ruby doesn’t fall into the mean-girl trope, and Stella doesn’t become a total Mary-Sue. Guerra manages to walk the line with both girls, and the novel is all the stronger for it.
The novel’s willingness to tackle tough subjects without getting overly preachy or melodramatic helps make the story’s rather far-fetched plot points seem more realistic and even plausible, given the situation. While Ruby’s actions become increasingly hard to watch (both for Stella and the reader), there’s never a moment that rings false. Guerra isn’t afraid to show the ugly side of people, and readers will resonate with this honesty.
Of course, the novel isn’t without its faults. The novel’s climax and resolution feel a little rushed and a little too convenient, respectively. The too-neat ending feels almost tacked-on after the book allowed its characters to go to such dark places. In all honesty, the novel’s ending sacrifices some of the book’s emotional impact, which was a disappointment. Savvy, sophisticated readers are more likely to pick up on this, though, and it won’t bother everyone.
All in all, a very promising debut. Guerra is one to watch–and this is a book that belongs on library shelves. Definitely for older teens, but worth adding to a collection.
Torn is out now.
Torn by Stephanie Guerra. Marshall Cavendish: 2012. Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.