Maybe I’m being too soft on this book, but I thought it was marginally better than Beatrice Sparks’s horrible usual. There’s actually a bit more substance than usual, and I must hand it to her for getting through an entire book without constantly breaking out into excessive italics, exclamation points, and sentences written in all caps. It even starts out seeming like it could’ve been taken from (or at least based on) an actual teenager’s diary instead of entirely made up.
However, there are still a number of suspicious problems. It just reads too much like a book written, in journal form, deliberately and premeditatively about a specific problem, and not drawn from the pages of a real-life teen’s journal. How many teen journals has Dr. Sparks really read if she thinks that they all focus so exclusively on a certain issue in their lives? None of her characters have much of any character development. They’re all defined by their issues.
In spite of being a bit better-developed than usual, the characters still seemed like one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Most teen journals are also composed of a lot of mundane he said-she said-type chatter, you know, writing about things besides problems in their lives. The frequent gaps in the narrative, like having several weeks between some entries, also add to the problems. And like Sparks’s other characters, Katie also seems a lot younger than she’s supposed to be.
Katie is a student at a Catholic girls’ school (rather embodying the stereotype of the sheltered innocent Catholic schoolgirl) and living with her parents in a huge mansion, surrounded by wealth and luxury. Her mother is badly abused by her Jeckyll and Hyde father, and because of her father’s controlling personality, Katie herself has never really been allowed to have friends, associate with boys, or do normal teens things. She gets excited about future possibilities when she and her new friend Jennifer meet two boys, Mark and David, at a museum, and secretly begin dating.
Katie’s father starts paying her unwarranted amounts of attention as soon as he notices that she’s becoming a young woman. Feeling starved for love, she accepts his sudden lavish attention, not realising till it’s too late that he’s behaving extremely inappropriately. Things come to a head when he finds out she’s been dating and dumps her in a very run-down area of L.A. While Katie is praying before her planned suicide, she’s found by Salvation Army man. He takes her to a shelter, and from there she gets put into foster care.
Sadly, the depictions of foster care seem to be pretty accurate instead of, as is Dr. Sparks’s usual forte, made up or wildly exaggerated to scare her target audience. As realistic as this aspect appears to be, however, this scenario just doesn’t fit together at all.
Why doesn’t anyone ever attempt to contact the police or search for her? We’re supposed to believe her horrid father just throws her onto the streets and no one ever is suspicious about why she just suddenly disappeared? And why doesn’t Katie herself want to go home? At one point she calls her dad’s secretary, who’s happy to hear from her, but Katie can’t even tell her where she is, nor does this secretary ever contact authorities. And though she’s frustrated, depressed, and angry, Katie adapts a little too quickly to foster care and a crummy school two grades behind her actual grade. (She lied about her age when she was found).
Wouldn’t most teens, particularly if they came from education, manners, and money, like Katie is always talking about, be fighting tooth and nail to go home? Instead she focuses on helping the other foster kids to become as mannered, educated, ambitious, and socially skilled as she is (with many mentions of prayer, religion, and repentance, of course).
Now I could see this had Katie been a child, but for a 16-year-old to just adapt that readily, without a fight? Coupled with her juvenile attitude and writing style, it just defies plausibility! And again, why would anyone be expected to believe a teenager from a rich, privileged family can just disappear with no one ever investigating and starting a search?
The ending is also a bit hard to swallow, given the grim reality foster teens face. It’s hard to believe how many of these younger kids so easily come under her wing and quickly adopt her way of thinking and living, but again, Sparks had a poor grasp of just how modern teens think, act, write, talk, and behave.
There’s a bit of supplementary material in the back on child abuse, crisis hotlines, abductions, and throwaway children. The back matter is skimpier than usual, not as extensive as the appendices in her books on subjects like AIDS and teen pregnancy.