He didn’t think there was any other way…
I have not compiled any statistics, but my general impression is that as YA fiction moved out of the 1970s and into the 80s, the subject matter tended less toward shock value (drugs, cults, weird sex stuff) and more towards internal/identity crises of the protagonists.
Coming in with the dawn of the new decade, Pfeffer manages to take in both of these aspects.
The Plot: Told in the form of 17 year old Lynn’s diary over the course of four months following the murder-suicide of her oldest friend, David Morris, and his parents, Pfeffer chronicles the fall-out among her classmates as they try to go on with their lives and Lynn desperately searches for answers.
The book opens with Lynn’s arrival home after spending an evening with her BFF, Steffi, to find the neighborhood in chaos as police and the press descend on the house across the street. Lynn learns that her parents were the ones that had called the police when they heard gunshots, and as the Morris family’s lawyer, her father had identified the bodies.
These events are especially devastating to Lynn’s family, who had had Bob and Lorraine Morris as neighbors for almost 15 years and cultivated an almost unhealthy closeness with the family.
More is revealed when the investigating detective pulls Lynn out of class the next day to interview her about her relationship with David:
“Did David know he was adopted?” Donovan asked.
“Yes,” I said, startled by the question. Donovan obviously meant to rattle me. I warned myself to stay on guard, to keep protecting David.
“When did he find out?” he asked.
“He always knew,” I said. “His parents never made a secret out of it.”
“Did you regard yourself as David’s best friend?”
“No.” I said “I was his oldest friend. Jeffrey Green was his best friend.” I wondered briefly how Jeffrey was. I’d hardly thought of him since last night. But of course I never like Jeffrey.
“He and David were very close then?”
“Were they lovers?”
I stared at Donovan, my mouth wide open. “Go to hell,” I said. Let him arrest me.
Donovan is the first in a long line of Terrible Adults, who have no idea how to handle the situation; when the English teacher Mr. Glick decides to “provide a catharsis” by dwelling on 18th century English poet Thomas Chatterton, who had committed suicide at 17, Jeffrey (who Lynn comments “has never been my idea of an emotionally stable person”) has a breakdown, terrifying the class, which Mr. Glick abandons in search of the school nurse, leaving Lynn’s classmates to try and talk down a hysterically screeching Jeffrey.
Jeffrey is committed to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of the school year, and that’s where the gossip starts, as Steffi reports that even the teachers are gossiping about how the Morris tragedy had something to do with a love triangle between Lynn, Jeffrey and David.
Lynn starts having terrible nightmares, and becomes convinced that David had given her some sort of indication about his plans when they had lunch together the day of the murders, but she has a mental block about the conversation: she can recall every other detail of the day, including a vague sense of disquiet after the lunchtime conversation, but what David had actually said remains terrifyingly blank.
Lynn starts secretly calling her older brother, away at college, at all hours of the night, which helps; but when the month’s phone bill arrives she’s found out and her parents gently coax her into seeing a psychologist.
Initially distrustful, Lynn starts to reveal more about the families’ strange relationship, and David’s anger towards his adoptive parents. The Morrises put constant pressure on David to achieve academically, as well as to pursue more “masculine” activities than the music and photography that he enjoyed. Lynn’s parents tried to mediate, but more often just let David live with them for weeks at time to try and cool things off between him and his parents.
Things had come to a head earlier that year, when David’s parents insist he attend a “wilderness camp” in Montana, instead of signing up for photography classes, and Lynn’s parents refused to take his side.
And her parents are still entangled in the Morrises’ affairs, since as their lawyer, it has fallen upon Lynn’s father to try and straighten out the estate, which is now being fought over by a bunch of squabbling relatives. When her father opens the Morrises’ home safe, he discovers that David had written a will for himself, dated the day of the murders.
David indicates the Jeffrey should get his photography equipment, but he leaves his “notebooks” to Lynn, who after much searching finds them hidden in her own attic, along with years’ worth of tests and papers with sub-par grades.
As Lynn reads through Jeffrey’s journals, chronicling the year leading up to the murders, life starts to get back on track for her classmates, especially after a handsome transfer student shows up in Jeffrey’s old seat in English class and starts paying a lot of attention to Lynn.
Bill Newman is cheerfully oblivious to the events of the previous months, and genuinely (if ham-handedly) tries restore some normalcy to the senior class.
But Lynn still can’t cope, especially after reading to the end of David’s journals and learning the secret he’d been keeping:
Lorraine is pregnant.
The Morrises had been extremely (and in Lynn’s parents’ opinion, inappropriately) open about their years of fertility treatments and quest to have a biological child. David’s motive has become suddenly, terribly, clear to Lynn.
But! Double twist! When she turns over the journals to Det. Donovan, he lets her know that an autopsy had been performed and Lorraine Morris had not been pregnant at the time of her death.
But the revelation does finally trigger Lynn’s memory regarding her last conversation with David: what had left her unsettled was David’s response to Lynn’s innocent inquiry into plans for Lorraine’s upcoming birthday:
“I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”
I even think he deliberately did it two days before Lorraine’s birthday as a kind of present. She was vain about her age; by killing her when he did, he erased a fully year from her obituaries.
Miraculously, the end of the school year arrives, and Lynn even begins to gain some sense of closure, when she receives a letter from Jeffrey, who is doing well and set to graduate from the program at the psychiatric hospital, even being provisionally accepted to Princeton, (“they get to change their mind if I have a psychotic episode between now and September”).
Pfeffer pulls off a balancing act: while David’s parents are awful, they certainly didn’t deserve to get what they got; additionally, David is never too sympathetic himself, leaving the reader wondering if his final confession about Lorraine’s pregnancy was a terrible mistake, or a deliberate manipulation from beyond the grave.