SCORING, binge-drinking, skipping school and wrestling with negative self-image and mortality converge in this midwest American equivalent of Puberty Blues, set both during narrator Cat’s teenage years on the shores of the Great Lakes and almost two decades later in modern-day New York.
Forced by her parents’ divorce to move with her mother and brother Jimmy to a cramped, prefabricated modular house in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Silver Lake in upstate Michigan, Catherine – an introverted straight-A student from an exclusive private school – welcomes an opportunity to reinvent herself socially and academically in the shadow of Marlena, her new next-door neighbour and soon-to-be best friend.
Two years Cat’s senior, Marlena is neglected by her amphetamine-manufacturing father and taken sexual advantage of – if not outright abused – by his drug-dealing accomplice. She is the looked down on by the rich families who inhabit waterfront mansions and taken for granted by her doped-up boyfriend. At the same time she is the only carer for her much-younger sibling, Sal – a lonely little boy who adores his big sister as the one stable reference point in his otherwise-miserable life.
Her mother’s physical beauty embarrasses Cat, whose father has long since married a woman barely out of college and now almost completely ignores his original two children.
As Cat insinuates herself ever deeper into Marlena’s grim, shadowy world, she discovers an uncanny ability to live a double life, going for weeks without attending classes while filling in her days drinking uncontrollably, chain-smoking and popping illicit pills.
Her presence close to 20 years later in New York, however, suggests that against the odds she survives her adolescence, albeit certainly not unscathed and with the memory of Marlena’s death at the age of 18 forever present.
What secrets is she harbouring, and how many ghosts still haunt Cat as she pretends that Silver Lake is in the past?