During summer break, Angie is walking home after training at the high school pool when she finds Henry McCleary, a classmate from a wealthy, prominent family, stabbed and bleeding on the football field. The police immediately focus their investigation on Chiara Thompkins, a runaway Black girl who disappears after the stabbing and wasn't properly enrolled in the public high school. The incident sends shock waves through the community and reveals jarring truths about the lengths to which families will go to protect themselves. As the town fractures, Angie must navigate conflicting narratives and wrestle with her own moral culpability. Meanwhile, Babur's painstaking efforts to shield Angie and protect his hard-earned efforts to assimilate overshadow his ability to see right from wrong.
Jain moves skillfully between other people’s points of view, revealing pieces of the truth along with what characters hope to present as such ... Other than the most powerful white men in the novel, who manipulate others to get what they want without compunction, each character inspires some level of empathy and understanding. That we don’t return to Chiara’s point of view until the very end, when we learn what actually happened, is a brilliant and heart-wrenching move on Jain’s part ... As readers, we are so often given feel-good stories of people surmounting the odds, of justice being wrangled back into the hands of those who deserve it. Instead of that, in a novel that will leave you aching — and thinking — Jain asks us to consider what a world might look like if justice really were for everyone.
Vibhuti Jain’s debut novel is marked by crime and prejudice, building to a story of human nature at its most vulnerable and manipulative. The lives of Chiara, Henry, Angie, Babur and Didi (Chiara’s cousin) grow more and more entwined in the aftermath of the incident, which is not as straightforward as everyone believes. The characters’ tumultuous minds are captured in arresting detail, although the chapters that incorporate multiple perspectives and points in time are a bit muddled. Still, Jain excels at developing multidimensional characters and an atmosphere of intrigue while also calling attention to the complicated web of class and race dynamics.