Lydia Chass is not averse to pulling strings or to cracking the patina of politeness. But such behavior is frowned upon in Henley, Ohio, where kindness is a social contract. On the path to getting out of small-town Henley and into a prestigious journalism school, Lydia has always aimed high and never made a secret of it. However, that ambition gets derailed when she learns that she doesn’t have the history credits required to graduate, an oversight that Mr. Benson, Henley High School’s Guidance Counsellor, didn’t realize because he’s overly fond of Jim Beam and pill-popping.

Now, Lydia has an independent study project “of appropriate depth and scope” to complete, and she plans to use her podcast as a platform. In order to give the podcast some “grit,” Lydia decides to solicit the help of fellow senior Bristal Jamison, “who has been suspended more times than a piano has keys” (13) and is also in jeopardy of graduation because of Mr. Benson’s ineptness.

As this unlikely pair begins researching the history of Henley, their focus turns to June 1994, when residents suffered “a long stretch of bad days.”  Not only did a tornado flatten most of the town, “a flash flood drowned every dog at the shelter, and the body of the only homicide victim that Henley has ever seen was found floating face-down in his trailer” (39). In the process of investigating this historical period, Lydia and Bristal might just solve the murder of Randall Boggs. As they peel back the layers of time, they not only discover that not everyone in Henley is “sweet, kind, and good” but unveil several surprises and coverups. With every mystery solved, another one shifts into place.

Bristal calls herself “a powder keg with a short fuse that’s already lit” while telling Lydia, “People can see me coming a mile away: scars, bruises, black eyes, the Jamison name and a bad mouth attached to it. But you? You sneak up on them. Your teeth might be professionally whitened, but they’re sharp as hell behind that smile” (92). It is with this kind of interaction that author of A Long Stretch of Bad Days, Mindy McGinnis, is able to explore themes of friendship, human motivation, the socioeconomic divide, and the notion that looks can be deceiving.

On this topic, Lydia’s dad, who is a defense attorney, cautions his daughter about the world being a dark and complicated place full of moral quandaries and about how difficult it is to keep people from falling through the cracks. He further explains that good people motivated by fear can do terrible things and that some behaviors we can’t forgive or excuse but we can defend them. Actions can be wrong, but the person committing them has reasons that others may never fully know or understand.

Besides learning that “the nice thing and the right thing aren’t always the same thing” (67), the reader joins Lydia and Bristal as they get closer to the truth and to solving mysteries as they unearth buried secrets.

  • Posted by Donna

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