Seventeen-year-old Lucy Ryman's world seems to be crashing in around her. Childhood sweetheart James McIntyre trades her in - for an older model. She discovers a secret that could tear her brother, Matt's, family apart. Her younger sister, Sarah, is out of control.
And Lucy herself is drawn to Kev Tanner. In the words of her brother, Danny: "Apart from the minor detail of being married with two kids, the guy is also a drunk, a junkie, and a pusher, not to mention a complete psycho."
And then there is Lucy's elder sister, Catherine, whose betrayal breaks Lucy's heart, and makes life even more complicated.
The novel is set in the UK, primarily in the 1980s, and deals with important, and sometimes controversial, issues.
I first met Kev Tanner in September 1983, at my brother, Danny's, twenty-first. I was seventeen, at the time. My eldest brother, Matthew, was twenty-five, and my sisters, Catherine and Sarah, aged nineteen and fourteen, respectively.
I was helping my mother and younger sister to prepare for the party, which had mainly involved rearranging the furniture, in order to create a “dance floor” in our living room, and identifying valuable items, which would need to be moved to comparative safety.
We were currently in the, thankfully decent-sized, kitchen, sorting out the food and drink. The dining room table, covered with a russet table cloth, had been temporarily moved there. That table held the food, and the smaller, Formica breakfast table, the drinks: primarily cans, of both the alcoholic, and soft drink, varieties.
Sarah looked the most like our mother: tall and slender, with glossy, raven-black hair which, in my sister's case, was almost waist-length. I'd never strongly resembled Mum, or any of my siblings. My red hair came from Dad's side. In truth, I'd always felt like the ugly sister, compared to both Catherine and Sarah.
Mum had, incredibly, agreed to go to her sister's for the evening, trusting us to “behave like responsible adults”, and not smash the place up in her absence. As if, right?
Not that I particularly cared. I wasn't exactly in the mood for partying.
And it made me feel physically sick, each time I thought about the reason why - each time I remembered.
“And you say Fiona definitely has this banner, Sarah?”
“Yes, Mum. I told you that before.”
“So, where is she?”
“I'm sure she'll be here soon. I think Tracy's dad is bringing them both.”
“Well, I hope they're here before Daniel. It might not be a surprise party as such, but it would still be nice to have the 'Happy Birthday' banner up before he and Hannah arrive. I know I should have made more food. Look at all these cans of beer. It's a disaster waiting to happen: a lot of young people, getting drunk, without any decent food inside them.”
I looked at the plates, piled high with sandwiches, quiche, and sausage rolls. Only Mum would worry that she should have “made more food” -
but I knew better than to point this out. It wasn't about the food.
“I'm sure everyone will be sensible,” said Sarah, “and it is Danny's twenty-first. We couldn't not have alcohol.”
“Of course, you won't be drinking anything alcoholic, Sarah.
Technically, Lucy shouldn't either, since you're both underage, but I'm not totally naive, and really, you youngsters are beyond me. However, I do draw the line at fourteen-year-olds drinking. It's not happening under this roof.”
Yeah, right. I couldn't imagine Sarah drinking, even when she finally did reach eighteen. She was a complete angel, bless her - didn't take after either Cath or myself, that was for sure.
“Mum,” I said, endeavouring to control my temper, “won't Sylvia be expecting you?”
“Not for another hour or so. I told her I had to help the two of you - well, and Catherine too, except that she isn't here yet. I don't know what's keeping her.”
“Probably flirting with some guy,” I suggested.
“She can't always get off work on time,” said Sarah, her tone defensive.
She always saw the best in everyone, and I loved her for that.
“And please remember to be surprised when Daniel and Hannah announce their engagement,” said Mum.
“Yeah, biggest surprise of all-time. Seriously, Hannah Jackson is just about the most boring person I've ever met. Nice enough, but totally, mind-numbingly boring.” I visualised Hannah, with her long, light brown hair, wearing that awful beige cardigan of hers. “I mean, remember that girl Danny used to go out with, Melanie someone or other? His taste has certainly changed.”
Sarah frowned. “Well, I'm thrilled for them both. They seem really happy. I don't know why you're always so mean about Hannah, Lucy. I think she's lovely.”
“You just like everyone.”
“No, I don't. Anyway, what's wrong with liking people?”
“Nothing, if they're worth liking.”
“All right, girls - that's enough. Lucy, Sarah's right. Hannah's a polite, sweet-natured girl. Believe me - I, for one, am delighted that she and your brother are getting married. She's certainly a much better influence than girls like that Melanie, and I'm relieved Daniel's finally settling down. You know, you still haven't confirmed whether James will be coming.” That was my mother for you. The woman didn't know when to shut up.
I finally lost it. “I don't give a damn about James McIntyre, and whether he comes or not. He chucked me, okay? Satisfied? So, you won't be getting any more marriage announcements tonight. Now, I'm going to my room, and if you need any more help, you'll have to wait for Catherine to show up, if she can be bothered. And don't tell me not to slam the door. I am not a kid.”
And yes, I slammed it.