Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The novel explores the strains that an insecure teen-ager's quest for independence place on her relationships with others. Initially, Rachel Cooper has difficulty with relationships, especially those that involve receiving and giving love, because she feels uncertain about who she is. Insecure about her own attributes and lacking self-confidence, Rachel has difficulty accepting her parents' sincere love because she fears that accepting love diminishes her independence. Similarly, thinking that her classmate Helena is motivated only by pity, Rachel at first rejects Helena's overtures at friendship. The same feeling prevails when Lewis, who becomes Rachel's boyfriend, first notices her. Mazer further illustrates the insecurity of youth when Lewis calls Rachel and hides behind the humorous facade of a German accent to help overcome his nervousness. Rachel's insecurity also causes her to accept her grandfather's bullying ways, his method of keeping others from penetrating his life and from reducing his sense of independence. As Rachel, Lewis, and her grandfather all become more secure, they realize that they are worthy of love, and they learn to accept and give love.

Rachel also learns about dying and death. Acting as a framework for the events of the narrative is the diagnosis of her grandfather Izzy Shapiro's imminent death from asbestosis, his struggle to remain independent for as long as possible, and finally, his death. A bittersweet tone pervades the...

(The entire section is 550 words.)