When Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in her wealthy New Jersey high school, is splashed with acid on the left side of her perfect face, the whole world takes notice. But quiet loner Jay Nazarro does more than that--he decides to find out who did it. Jay understands how it feels to be treated like a freak, and he also has a secret: He's a brilliant hacker. But the deeper he digs, the more danger he's in--and the more he falls for Nicole. Too bad everyone is turning into a suspect, including Nicole herself.
Popular & pretty high school student Nicole Castro is walking to class one day when an unidentified assailant rushes up on her and squirts acid in her face before quickly running off. Because the attack causes instant pandemonium with Nicole's screams and people wanting to help but unsure of what just happened, no one gets a good look at who the attacker was. What follows is weeks turning into months as Nicole not only goes through numerous procedures to try to minimize the permanent scarring, but also her trying to process the emotional trauma of the incident. Trauma made worse by the fact that all her old friends seem to now either shun or ridicule her, causing her to be reluctant to return to school full time. The only person who seems to want to be her friend without any hesitation is Jay, a loner computer hacker who has had his own struggles with ridicule because of his epilepsy, which causes him to fall into seizures at the most inconvenient times. Jay has been tormented because of the uncontrollable incontinence which can often follow a seizure, and his seizures seem to happen most commonly at school. So he's not one to attack the misfortunes of others unnecessarily.
Jay becomes a source of strength for Nicole as the gawking extends outside the circle of school peers. Her parents are minor celebrities in the art world, so she finds herself often being followed by paparazzi trying to get a graphic photo of her facial scarring for tabloids. Jay wants to help Nicole figure out who would want to carry out such a horrific attack on her but his loyalty does have a moment of wavering when someone else gives him information that suggests that Nicole might have had a hand in her own attack. As ridiculous as it sounds to him, he can't shake the suspicion entirely. Would someone really go to such lengths... and if so, why? Nicole's parents seem admirably protective and supportive of her for the most part but Nicole's mom does let out one line that had some sting to it: "Isn't it awful? She was so beautiful." Ouch.
While the story's main focus is supposed to be on Nicole, and the social traumas that stem follow her attack, I actually felt that Jay had more bullying thrown at him. Nicole has a mean thing whispered here and there but largely most of the characters are ignoring her more than anything...or just cutting eyes at her. Meanwhile, Jay's uncontrollable epilepsy gets him repeatedly pummeled, slurs thrown at him, fluids thrown on him.. nearly every day. I was pretty impressed at how well Jay keeps his cool while still providing solid friendship to Nicole, never letting on how bad things are for him.
The novel is inspired by some of author Paul Griffin's experiences as a volunteer EMT. In his afterword, Griffin also said that while writing, he also had in mind an old college friend of his who was involved in a murder-suicide, though that idea is not directly worked into the story here. The chapter POVs alternate between the voice of Nicole and that of Jay, with a few chapters in between that are told via the notes of Nicole's therapist, Dr. Julian Nye. This was yet another YA novel that for me had a cool premise but ended up having its faults for me. I was expecting more tension or mystery to be woven into the plot, but that fell a little flat. Though I will say, there is a moment near the end that I was not expecting, so that one scene did startle me. As a whole though, the plot was just entertaining enough to keep me reading, but not enough to make me sad to put it down when I had to. Also, I found the dialogue, at times, running a little too much into after school special territory. Still, it had it's good moments and I'm not sorry that I gave it a go. Good, just wish it had had a little more to it.
POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel does periodically mention characters who cut.