Contrary to the argument that YA is simplistic and satisfying, there are few neat ends in the ensuing tale. Virginia makes a deal with the vet to work for him in exchange for treating her dog—but her mother's decision is never explained, much less apologized for. Instead, the violent mess and the arbitrary cruelty of those first pages seep and spread across the whole book. Virginia's father develops an incurable, rare blood disease; her best friend suddenly pushes away from her, leaving her even more isolated with her own and her family's grief.
Donovan's first-person narration mirrors and intensifies the sense of instability and loss. Virginia's voice is a loose stream of consciousness, jumping off from mundane details to metaphor or allusion and then slipping back through memory:
Now that it's spring, baby rabbits wobble beneath the trees every time I look outside. They somersault in midair and end up facing the direction they were hopping from, all shocked, like they don't know how they landed there. I guess they don't. How much can any living thing know that's been around only for a few short weeks? It makes me wonder how much I knew when I was a tiny, wobbling baby. I admit I feel pretty confused now. I have hazel eyes. They go green when I cry.
They're still green today. Can my eyes have their own memories? It was yesterday I wept, the reverberations of a car crashing a hundred miles an hour, crashing into my bones.
That's a passage fairly at random from the book, but it neatly encapsulates the novel's themes: disorientation, the inseparability of past and present (is Virginia confused as a baby, or confused now?), and the way those you love are part of you (whose bones did the car crash into?).
This selection also explains, economically, why this book is YA, and why the distinction between books for kids and books for adults is largely meaningless. A grown-up like Graham might have you believe that those confused rabbits wobbling outside stand in for somebody else—grownups, with the wisdom of age, know just how they landed where they landed, facing in the direction they’re facing. But Donovan tells us it's not so easy: Whether we’ve lived a few short weeks or 15 short years, or 60—how much can we know? We adults see those bunnies, or those young people, as unstable, foolish, undeveloped, just so we can pretend we're the opposite of all those things. But even as we see, our eyes keep changing.
As Virginia's father is dying, she finds herself in a passionate, intense love affair with Jane, a new girl at school. Virginia hasn't previously thought of herself as a lesbian, and the relationship with Jane seems to almost ambush her, like the car barreling into her dog, or like her father's illness. Jane is an admirer of Rimbaud, and Virginia in her internal monologue quotes him: "Nobody's serious when they're seventeen." But, Virginia thinks, "What about fifteen, I wonder. What's that supposed to be like? How serious are we now?"