Take one part I Know What You Did Last Summer and one part Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, and you’ll have Stewart Lewis’ young adult thriller One Stupid Thing. This suspense-driven novel opens with longtime friends Trevor, Jamie, and Sophia on a widow’s walk overlooking Nantucket. The party downstairs isn’t much, so they find each other and manufacture some fun by throwing eggs at the cars passing below. What starts as a harmless prank turns horribly wrong when the vintage Mustang they pelt suddenly crashes into a tree, leaving its driver dead.
Ten months later, the world has changed for Jamie, Sophia, and Trevor. They’re back on the island for the summer, but they haven’t seen each other since that fateful night when, convinced of their responsibility for the death of the driver, they vowed to keep their actions a secret and went their separate ways. Secrets will fester, however, and all three know they can’t go on like this forever.
Because of that night, their futures feel fractured. Sophia, determined to get into Brown, is worried the truth will jeopardize her chances at admission. Trevor disintegrates, getting kicked off the soccer team and drinking to dull his struggles. And Jamie just feels lost. With Sophia at a new school and Trevor self-destructing, all Jamie has is his work on the student newspaper and his afternoon visits with his elderly neighbor.
Then Jamie meets Violet, and as the two become friends, she tells him about her creepy stepdad and his employee Brendan’s death the summer before. She knows it was a car wreck, but she suspects her stepdad is involved. Suddenly, Jamie sees a way out of the guilt. Maybe they weren’t responsible? Maybe there was something else going on that night? Reuniting with Sophia and then Trevor, Jamie and the group work to unravel the mystery of Brendan’s death and learn a lot about themselves along the way.
Dramatic events aside, Lewis — a singer-songwriter and part-time Nashville resident with six previous novels to his credit — is working with familiar teen issues here: college pressures, family difficulties, emerging sexual identities, and of course, friendship. Navigating relationships is never easy, and these teens seem to have more than their fair share of complications. From divorce to adultery, class issues and mental health concerns, these families demonstrate that wealth alone can’t safeguard you from difficulties.
The novel is written in alternating voices, with all four teens getting a share of the spotlight, though Lewis doesn’t always succeed in maintaining a distinctive voice for each. The dialogue can feel stilted at times, but there’s also engaging banter, as in one of Jamie and Violet’s first conversations:
“That kind of thinking will get you nowhere,” Violet said, readjusting her hair for something to do with her shaky hands.
“Yeah, well, welcome to my world. The world of nowhere.”
Discussions of sexuality have a similar unevenness. As the characters work through feelings for each other or explore new relationships, the tone may feel awkward or forced to some young readers, while others might see it as a reflection of the kind of turmoil teens often feel, especially those that identify as LGBTQ. Either way, the struggle to understand who you are and how you are growing into yourself will be familiar to many, and the unfolding mystery will keep most readers turning pages as they try to figure out how the story might resolve.
Everyone can relate to the fear of doing “one stupid thing” that wrecks the rest of your life, and those invested readers will be hoping along with Jamie, Sophia, Trevor, and Violet that everything will work out in the end.
Sara Beth West is a writer and reviewer, usually found at sarabethwest.com. She lives in Chattanooga with her family, dogs, and a cat who always, always, always thinks it is time for dinner.