Nan Easterly is in the Central Academy gymnasium (not a happy place), waiting for her best friend Debbie Stark. Once again, even though this book was published in 1993, we have a distinctly 50s vibe, even just from the names.
Nan is poor and lives in Pitney Docks, and Debbie’s father is a doctor so she lives in Prescott Estates. Port City has a rigid caste system.
Nan is also a new girl, and has only known Debbie since the summer. She’s thinking about how much she hates not having any friends here except Debbie, when a guy bumps into her and then looks her up and down. The POV is a little strange here:
The boy gave her an up-and-down glance. Nan was dressed in jeans, running shoes, a white blouse, and a brown corduroy vest. She had never considered herself particularly attractive, but the boy had quickly noticed her wholesome good looks.
Okay then. He introduces himself as Jimmy Chambers, tells her he’s going out for football, and suggests she try out to be a cheerleader. Wow, pushy.
Nan overreacts to everything:
He stood there gawking and smiling. “Orientation’s a drag, huh?”
Nan didn’t want to be impolite, but she wasn’t in the mood for conversation. All around them, the throng of sophomore students buzzed with anticipation of the school year, trying to get settled before the eight o’clock bell. It wasn’t the time or place to start an intimate exchange, even with someone as hunky as Jimmy Chambers.
An intimate exchange? Seriously? He’s making small talk, not trying to swap personal revelations or bodily fluids. Calm down.
Then Jimmy’s girlfriend shows up, and she’s written to be so over-the-top possessive that I assumed it was a plot point. It isn’t.
“Sorry little girl,” a female voice purred, “he’s taken.”
Nan saw a flash of golden hair and a pair of blue eyes staring back at her. A pretty blond girl had come out of the crowd to claim Jimmy as her prize. She was dressed in a tight-fitting red sweater and a white skirt. Nan disliked her immediately and would probably have disliked her even if they hadn’t been competing for Jimmy’s attention.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “This is Ginger.”
Ginger brandished a catty smile. “Hello.”
There’s so much wrong in the space of half a page I don’t know where to start.
- Nan should fit right in, since everyone else over reacts too. She’s just standing next to your bf, Ginger, you can relax.
- Exactly how blonde must Ginger be for us to need to be told it twice in as many lines?
- Nan, you’ve spent the entire two minutes you’ve known Jimmy wishing he’d go away because you’re not in the mood for conversation, but now suddenly you’re “competing for his attention”? Be more decisive, child.
- And also be less judgemental. Ginger’s opening line was admittedly unfriendly and territorial, but I get the distinct impression Nan mostly dislikes her for wearing a tight sweater.
Ginger drags Jimmy away before he can find out Nan’s name, and then Debbie shows up. Debbie is ALSO a new student, having moved to Port City in the summer. Debbie has black hair and is dressed all in black, prompting Nan to ask if she’s going to a funeral. Ugh.
They take a seat in the bleachers, and no one’s reaction to anything in this entire book is going to make any goddamned sense, is it?
They found an aisle that led to the higher tiers. Nan let Debbie go first. Everyone looked at them as they passed. They were certainly a strange pair with Nan in her white blouse, a towering, slender figure over Debbie’s chubby, black-clad frame.
I’m sorry, on what planet does that make them a strange pair? Are people only supposed to be friends with people of the same weight and height? Once they become friends, should they start dressing identically?
Jimmy winks at Nan and Ginger glares at her, in case we haven’t already had enough of
that. Then when she’s actually sitting down (Nan, I mean) he “gazes up at her” over his shoulder, and you know what? Ginger wasn’t over reacting at all; she just got mad at the wrong person. She needs to dump Jimmy’s arse, not yell at Nan.
Assistant principal Harlan Kinsley welcomes them to the school.
I’m tired of all these people, but luckily the second chapter introduces a new character: an “aimless drifter” with a “slightly crazed expression,” wearing a leather jacket, now on his second day of walking south. He doesn’t know why, or who he is, or how he got that bruise on his forehead, or where the roll of money in his pocket came from.
He gets picked up by the police, who guess he’s about eighteen or nineteen. They run his fingerprints and he’s clean, but they’re concerned about the memory loss and the money. Not concerned enough to do anything other than drive him to the bus station and tell him to get out of town, though. Because that’s what we do with possibly-underaged amnesiacs in these here parts.
He sees the name “Port City” at the bus station, and because it sounds right for some reason, he buys a one-way ticket.
Meanwhile, Nan is adjusting to life at Central Academy, which has (we’re informed) six “structures,” three of which are classroom buildings. There’s also a football stadium, an “indoor swimming pool structure,” and a gymnasium.
She eats lunch with Debbie, who tells her that Jimmy Chambers has been asking about her. Ugh.
“What about Miss Blondie?” Nan wondered aloud. “I mean, he could just be trying to make her jealous.”
Debbie threw out her hands. “You’re lots cuter than her. She’s a tramp. All that make-up. And you’re nicer too. Take my word for it, she’s history.”
Nan blushed. “You really think so?”
You both suck. I hope Nameless Guy shows up and kills you all.
Instead, Jimmy shows up and sits with them. Then Ginger shows up to remind him that they’re going steady. No matter how hard the author is working to make Ginger look like the bad guy here, Jimmy is patently obviously a jerk.
Then Ginger throws her tray at Nan, and Debbie physically attacks Debbie. I…don’t like anyone in this book, except maybe Nameless Guy.
The unnamed boy arrives in Port City and has an unexpectedly bougie lunch while pondering his unknown past:
He was hungry, so he went across the street to a bakery where he bought a loaf of French bread, two small bottles of cranberry juice, and a cup of hot soup. There were sidewalk tables in front of the bakery, but he didn’t want to eat where everyone could see him.
What was he hiding? Had he hurt someone? Or killed someone?
I mean that lunch sounds lovely, but it’s not what I expect from unnamed possible-killers.
An “unnamed force” pulls him to a park, where he finds himself thinking that if he falls asleep, “the girl” will find him. Nan is already too special to live in my opinion, what with the sudden attraction from Jimmy and everyone staring in astonishment because she’s walking up stairs with someone with a different hair colour. So hearing she has a psychic link with someone is unsurprising, but incredibly annoying.
Anyway, Nan and Debbie and Jimmy and Ginger have all been hauled down to Mr. Kinsley’s office (he’s the principal, obviously). Nan is being plagued by feelings that she should be somewhere else.
Jimmy and Ginger get first shot at telling their side of the story, which is never good, and then they get sent out and Nan and Debbie get their turn.
“She threw that tray at me,” Nan replied calmly. “She didn’t want me sitting next to Jimmy.”
Kinsley sighed. “We don’t need this sort of thing at Central. You know, I should call your parents. Nan, I see here that the Easterly’s are your adoptive parents.”
Nan blushed. “Yes, sir. My real parents were killed in a plane crash when I was three years old.”
I don’t get why she’s blushing here; maybe she’s just like I was in high school and blushes every damned time anyone speaks to her. But anyway, I like her slightly better for staying calm during this interview.
She and Debbie get let off with just a warning, because Jimmy’s story matched theirs. But then the principal says that “it’s only fair” that Ginger receive the same treatment, and what the hell? That is the opposite of fair. If you believe the three people that say Ginger physically assaulted someone first, punish her. No wonder this place has so many murderers.
After they leave the office Debbie mentions that this is the first she’s heard about Nan being adopted, but Nan isn’t listening: she’s thinking about the bridge at the Tide Gate River, which is the same place the unnamed boy is napping.
The boy wakes up, and does some clutching his head and hoping he didn’t hurt anyone. Some people up on the bridge, looking at him down on the embankment, think he’s “mental.” He can’t leave, though, because he’s waiting for the girl to show up. Just wait, Nameless Guy: you’re going to be shocked, but she has friends who aren’t identical to her!
Nan’s last class of the day is gym, and everyone including the gym teacher was staring at her because they’d heard about the fight with Ginger. The gym teacher has a talk with her after class, saying she knows it can be rough moving to a new school, and that Ginger doesn’t really mean any harm. I don’t know, people who throw trays at you generally do mean to do you harm in my experience. But Nan is barely listening anyway, because she’s overwhelmed by the urge to go to the river.
Jimmy chats with her outside the building, and is puzzled that she somehow knows he has one sister, named Iris. But Nan is more interested in what’s between his legs: a motorcycle. She gets him to drive her to the river.
A boy and three girls show up at the police station to report there’s a guy hanging around the bridge “acting really crazy.” The sergeant wonders if it could be “that guy that escaped up there from Lewiston,” which is the vaguest and most awkward sentence ever.
Meanwhile Nan and Jimmy get the the bridge, and she promptly abandons Jimmy to climb down the embankment. She and the boy, whom she suddenly knows is named Sam, stand there smiling happily at each other and then the police show up.
They cuff the boy and throw him in the back of the cruiser, because talking to yourself and appearing to maybe be mentally ill are crimes, obviously? I don’t even know. They take Nan to the police station too, but not in handcuffs. Chief Danridge wants to know “what’s going on between you two,” which is none of his fucking business. The police determine he’s not the Lewiston escapee, so they’re going to send him to Juvenile Detention. Why? For what? It all seems completely arbitrary.
Danridge tries talking to Nan alone, but she doesn’t know who the boy is, admits she just met him under the bridge, and fails to impress the chief with her assertion that she “just knows” the boy is in some kind of trouble. Jeez, Nan, could you not just make up a convincing lie?
Instead she makes up an unconvincing lie, and the chief is such an idiot he believes her:
She sat up straight, returning his pointed gaze. “No, I—I just felt sorry for him,” she replied, saying what she thought would get her off the hook. “I mean, he’s sort of cute. And I didn’t want him to get hurt. Besides, I don’t think his name is really Sam. I just said that because he reminds me of a guy I used to know whose name is Sam.”
Danridge nodded, a knowing glint in his eye. “I thought it was something like that. Nan, you seem like a good kid. You don’t need to be involved with someon like this guy. He’s only trouble.”
You THOUGHT it was something like this? “Tee hee, he’s cute, and I just made up a name for him” strikes you as not only believable but predictable? JFC, everyone in this book is an idiot.
They let Nan leave, having apparently determined she’s too dumb to cause trouble, and at the doorway to the police station is…Sam. Still in handcuffs. Just standing around, free to chat to her. So in this town they arrest you for net to nothing, but then just basically ignore you?
Nan has a psychic flash and sees an evil face, and warns Sam that “he’s trying to kill you.” A cop interrupts before they can exchange further gibberish. Nan leaves, still thinking about the evil man who is coming to Port City. Jimmy’s waiting to give her a ride home.
She spends two whole pages assuring Jimmy that she doesn’t want to ditch him. It’s clearly a deep relationship with solid foundations:
He blushed. “Nan, you’re so beautiful. The first time I saw you, I said, ‘I have to meet her.’ You’re gorgeous.”
It was her turn to blush. “Jimmy!”
“No, I mean it. You’re the most beautiful girl in the sophomore class.”
“What about Ginger?” Nan asked.
“Ginger, your girlfriend. Remember?”
Jimmy nodded absently. “Oh, yeah. Well, we went together last year, but I wanted to break up. She kept after me, but when I saw you—” He smiled warmly.
Ugh. Nan, nothing about that speech should make you want to go out with this guy. “You’re an upgrade because you look better!” is not actually a compliment.
We meet Nan’s mother, Joan Easterly, who is tall and slender and looks so much like Nan that people never guess Nan is adopted. I like that the book straightforwardly calls her Nan’s mother. Joan warns Nan to wear a helmet next time she rides a motorcycle, confirming that Nan really is an idiot. Nan considers telling her about the psychic flashes but decides not to. Good call, Nan; your psychic flashes are tedious.
Nan’s mother smiles when Nan correctly uses the word “curriculum” even though she’s not quite sixteen. Uh…
Nan calls Debbie and has the world’s least interesting conversation about how Jimmy brought her home and kissed her. Ugh. This goes on for PAGES. She also keeps thinking about the boy under the bridge, but doesn’t tell Debbie about him.
Then she gets a call from Ginger, who says “Stay away from Jimmy, you slut!” That’s an actual quote. Ginger explains that she and Jimmy have gone steady since sixth grade and someday they’re going to be married, and says things like “Who are you to tell you anything? I’m popular.” Nan has more visions, this time of Ginger lying on the ground bleeding.
Nan has a dream about the cover of this book: she opens her locker to find her books and tennis racket shredded, and the words “You’re next!” in spray-paint. It honestly feels like the author was shown the cover and wrote a scene just to shoehorn that in.
Chief Danridge and some other cop take Sam to Millbrook, where there’s a Juvenile Detention Center that can evaluate Sam and determine if he really has amnesia. They have a less-than-reassuring conversation:
The patrolman sighed. “Chief, you think we ought to take him to Millbrook? I mean, he doesn’t seem like a bad kid.”
Danridge grimaced, glancing into the rearview mirror. “We have to, for now, anyway. Once they evaluate him, maybe we can get him into a foster home.”
At Millbrook a man in a uniform pokes Sam with a nightstick and says “He’s ours now. We can do whatever we want with him,” when Danridge protests. They leave him there anyway, where he’s stripped and deloused, punched in the face for no reason by a guard, and locked in a cell. He holds on to the thought that Nan will rescue him.
Nan has another dream, because nothing moves your plot forward like a lot of dream sequences. She’s walking through Port City, only the town seems deserted and it’s foggy. She hears Sam calling her name and runs to him, but as she hugs him they hear a roaring sound and then the evil man emerges from the fog, threatening to kill them. They run, Sam vanishes, the bad guy reaches for her throat, Ginger’s lying on the ground bleeding again in case we forgot that, and finally Nan’s mother wakes her up.
I officially hate psychic flashes and long dream scenes.
We learn that she’s been having these dreams and psychic flashes for a week and a half now, and seeing Jimmy every day. Maybe dating an asshole is causing your nightmares?
At school she has a “tingling sensation” and then when she gets to homeroom, Sam is there. I’m calling it now: he’s her brother. Don’t judge me, this was a thing in 90s teen horror.
She knows he’s not really named Sam Harper, even though that’s what he’s called now, and once they touch she knows he’s in a group home and attending a “special program” at Central.
In the cafeteria Nan sees Sam sitting with Ginger and immediately the image of Ginger lying on the ground bleeding returns. Ha. Ginger is “desperately” trying to get Sam to pay attention to her, because it’s her destiny in this book to carry every negative stereotype anyone could possibly apply to a pretty blonde girl.
Nan shakes off the image and walks over, noting that she doesn’t feel jealous.
You love him, she said to herself, but not like that. Why was she drawn to him so strongly if she had no romantic interest?
I mean, I know the book is just trying to telegraph really hard that he’s her brother, but I’m annoyed that it makes it sound like women only have two settings regarding men: romantic interest, or not giving a shit.
Nan tries to warn Ginger that she’s in danger, but Ginger just thinks Nan’s threatening her, scoffs, and walks away. As you would.
Nan and Sam have a boring conversation about vague shit. It boils down to “the Evil Man is after us and he’s in Port City,” but takes two pages. Then, just because I’m not annoyed enough with everyone in this book, Jimmy shows up and accuses Nan of being “nothing but trouble.” He’s an asshole, but then, Nan is standing in the cafeteria holding hands with Sam, and I suppose most people aren’t going to assume “oh, they’re just trying to improve their psychic abilities through contact.”
Nan has some more psychic visions, runs out of class, and opens the janitor’s broom closet. Ginger’s body falls out.
At the police station, Nan and Sam (because he’d “been seen talking to the girl who found the body”) deny killing Ginger. Danridge asks them a few more times though just in case. Nan confesses she’s psychic, and Danridge…believes the psychic part, but is suspicious other stuff?
“I mean, even if you’re telling the truth about all this psychic stuff, it still looks bad to me. Like there’s a connection between you and this kid.”
Wtf? Why is it “bad” that she might have a connection to a boy who, just to reiterate, hasn’t done anything?
Anyway, Danridge isn’t just an idiot: he’s also creepy. He attempts to get Nan to prove she’s psychic, urging her to touch his hand and tell him what he’s thinking. He also says that if she doesn’t offer him some proof, he’s going to have to believe they’re the ones who killed Ginger.
So Sam confesses, having worked out that there’s no such thing as a reasonable police investigation in this town. Nan objects, saying he’s just trying to protect her, and blah blah psychic-something there’s an Evil Guy.
Danridge talks (inaudibly) on the phone, leaves the room, and returns with a piece of red fabric in an envelope. This causes her to do lots of “It’s him! He’s hurting her!” vague bullshit, and then she faints.
Just before she passes out someone says, “Her parents are here,” and when she wakes up back in her own bedroom her mother wants to talk. Not about nearly being arrested, or the murder of a classmate, or the police being grossly unprofessional, or her new psychic abilities. Nope, none of that.
“Nan, your father and I are quite concerned about your relationship with this boy.”
Nan now “knows” what her relationship with Sam is, but she doesn’t tell her mother (or us). I guess this is meant to be suspenseful. Traitor that she is, Nan just tells her mother that she made a mistake because she felt sorry for him. I’m assuming she means “I tried to befriend him because I felt sorry for him,” but it’s vaguely worded and for all I know she’s confessing to pity sex. (This is the second time Nan’s done the “oh, I made a mistake because I felt sorry for that dreadful boy!” thing, and I hate her a little for not just saying, “Fuck off, he’s done nothing wrong.”)
In the night Sam sneaks through her window, and she breaks it to him: the Evil Guy is their father! “Somehow” it all comes back to Sam now too.
Her father comes in (Sam escapes through the window), interrupting their reunion. But this is pointless, because then it’s the net day, she has some more psychic crap, and she goes to meet Sam by the bridge so they can talk some MORE about being siblings. Also there’s a psychic flashback to when Sam was five and Nan was three, and their father murdered their mother. Sam testifies in court, and their father says he should have killed him too. It’s quite awful, but the “Nan is having visions and fainting and stuff” premise overshadows the grim backstory, making the whole thing unbelievable and ridiculous instead of touching.
I don’t know; possibly someone with more tolerance for “psychic flashback” plotlines would enjoy this book more than I can. I’m just waiting for it to end.
Anyway. Sam now remembers the string of foster homes that raised him, and also that their father’s name is Walt. Nan realizes he has the same power that they do, which is how he’s found them.
And he really has found them, because suddenly he’s there on the embankment.
Sam tries to get Nan to run, but she’s fascinated by her “real father” and oh my fucking God, no. Stop that.
Walt says something about Sam having “really coldcocked me back there in Lewiston,” so it turns out he’s the mysterious Lewiston escapee. Points for continuity, I guess.
Walt calls Nan “Lori,” and tries to convince her he was framed. She doesn’t believe it, though, and knows he also killed Ginger.
Walt attacks Sam, only just to make this slightly ridiculous the book keeps calling Walt “the demon.” Sentences like “The demon pushed him over effortlessly” are not the best way to explain that an abusive father is beating the crap out of his teenage son and trying to throw him off a bridge.
Nan manages to shove Walt off the bridge while Sam is dangling by one hand like a cartoon character. She pulls Sam up and they run, hide in a warehouse, and then go to Central Academy once it’s dark. Sam’s hidden his money there, so they’re going to retrieve it and use it to escape.
Nan stops at her locker to leave a note to her parents. She’s been carrying a picture of them for days (this is the first time the book has mentioned it), and thinks that some part of her must have anticipated a hasty escape from town. Looking at the picture leads her to decide they should stay and fight, and just then her father shows up:
He grabbed her, putting his hand over her mouth.
His superior weight pressed her against the wall.
Nan could feel her father’s breath, hot and foul on the soft skin of her neck.
This is genuinely the creepiest scene in the book so far.
Sam, meanwhile, is standing at his own locker when his psychic abilities let him feel what Nan’s experiencing. He starts running for her locker.
The creepiness just ratchets up. This book has gone from tedious to terrifying in the space of a single chapter.
With his free hand, he began to stroke her face. Her skin crawled.
“Such a pretty thing, just like your mother.”
“It won’t be so bad,” he told her. “You’ll get used to it.”
But he gets distracted because they both sense Sam is somewhere nearby. He drags Nan around for a while, trying to find Sam, but Nan is somehow using her psychic powers to block Walt’s abilities. Sam leaps out of somewhere onto Walt’s back.
Nan tries to set off the fire alarm, Walt grabs her, and Sam pulls the alarm on the other wall. I think. It’s confusing and a little tedious again. Walt rants about killing them to make the voices stop. I presume this is meant to be “he hears voices in his head,” and not “he just wants Nan and Sam to shut up.” If it were the second thing I’d sympathize just a little.
There’s a really inept knife fight. Eventually Nan ends up with the knife, Sam whacks Walt over the head a couple of times with a fire extinguisher, and then Nan rams the knife into Walt’s torso as he collapses.
So we’re back in the police station, like you’d expect. Only now that Sam and Nan have actually KILLED SOMEONE, Chief Danridge is friendly and sympathetic. Nan’s parents show up.
Then there’s an epilogue in which we find out Sam’s been released from Millbrook for a second time, and he’s coming to dinner. Neither of them have psychic powers any more. It’s been two weeks since “the incident.”
At dinner Sam tells Nan he’s going to stay in town and get a job as a mechanic, and Mr. and Mrs. Easterly invite him to come live in the spare room in the attic. Sam accepts, but says he wants to pay rent.
I…guess there were no murder charges or trial or anything. Yay?