Torn is an excellent example of a book that is excellent up until its final act, when it all falls apart.
Stella Chavis is a high school senior, seemingly content with her friends, family and future. Yes, she still suffers lingering affects of her father’s behavior and abandonment of his family. And, yes, she has had the same friends since kindergarten, and she sometimes resents having to take care of her younger sister and brother. But life, for the most part, is good for Stella.
Until, in a frenzied burst, Ruby Caroline enters Stella’s life.
Ruby is what we call Troubled. She dresses provocatively, smokes and drinks. She’s also drawn to older boys, beginning with the Notre Dame students living in the girls’ town of South Bend, Indiana. Through Ruby, Stella discovers that an occasional stiff drink helps you feel better, college boys are fun (Stella meets Mike, who becomes her boyfriend), and there is a lot more excitement to life than Stella has experienced.
There is always a but.
Ruby likes to get in a lot deeper trouble, is drawn to a much hotter flame, than Stella. Yet Stella can’t stay away from her. She tells herself that Ruby needs her and her friendship, that she can’t abandon her new best friend, even as she abandons the friends she’s had forever. As Ruby sinks deeper and deeper, Stella is there, enabling her all the way.
What author Stephanie Guerra does well with this book is create fairly realistic characters. Ruby is a little over the top, but I’ve seen girls like her strolling the halls of the high school where I work. She’s outlandish, but some girls are. And Stella is beautifully conceived. She does not realize she is mired in ambivalence until she meets Ruby, and her reaction to this enlightenment results in fairly typical high school behavior.
Peppered throughout Torn are gentle urgings to seek comfort in God. For example, when Stella talks to Mike about applying to Notre Dame, he tries to comfort her by saying that she will get in, if ‘God wants you to, you will.'” Stella’s response is one we understand:
Boy, I hated when people said that. Of course it was true, but what if God didn’t want me to get in? Or what if my college career was too insignificant for God to worry about? That was a distinct possibility, too.
The story chugs along, with Stella feeling the push and pull of friendship with Ruby, as well as her relationship with Mike and her family. But then we get to the last few chapters, and this wonderful story just sort of wraps up, end of scene. It’s almost as if Stephanie Guerra got tired of writing, or had a word count she couldn’t exceed. The rationale behind the tidy resolution of Ruby’s and Stella’s problems is unsatisfactory. The weakest is the playing out of Stella and Mike’s courtship. What happens make sense, but not Stella’s apparent emotional distance.
The thing is, this book was really good up until the end. That’s what makes it frustrating, and that’s why it gets the three cupcakes it does. It’s a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise engrossing novel.