When Emma moved to Orsonville back in the third grade, Anna introduced herself. They soon became fast friends, and Emma hasn’t really spent time with anyone else. Now the girls are in ninth grade, and the glamorous and edgy Mariah has introduced them to her circle of friends, broadening their social horizons greatly. One night the girls tell their parents that they’re going to the movies when really they’re going to Mariah’s boyfriend’s house for a party. They get caught in this lie by their parents and make up another, bigger one, to cover it up: they were on their way to the movies but took some time to just hang out by the river. When they were at the river, a strange man attacked them. They managed to escape, but never made it to the movies.
When the girls tell the lie, they think it will get them off the hook and that will be that. Instead, their parents get the police involved, their school holds assemblies to discuss the event, a man is arrested, and the women of the community stage a “Take Back the Night” rally.
In Harmless, Dana Reinhardt tells the story using each of the girls’ voices. We get a different perspective from each of them and learn their motivations and see what their lives are like from the inside. This unique form of narration allows each girl to be a whole character, rather than limiting us to one girl’s perspective on the other two. We also see how each character changes: Anna, the good and unpopular girl, decides to open up and finally start being a little wild; Emma, the “normal” one, withdraws into herself; Mariah, who has always been rebellious, starts to take life more seriously.
Harmless is very different from Reinhardt’s first book, A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life. The tone is darker, though the subject matter is of equal seriousness. Harmless is, above all else, intense. It examines what can happen when we lose control of our lies. It also shows us that people may not be just the way you perceive them. Mariah’s inner thoughts reveal her to be not at all the girl Anna thought she was. Emma’s family has secrets she doesn’t share, even with her best friends. Anna has a desire to be different than she is, but doesn’t express this until Mariah presents her with the opportunity.
Harmless is an excellent book. I would recommend it to readers who like books that make them think. It contains language and content that make the YOUNG ADULT label necessary and emphatic: parents may want to read it before giving it to their children.
Book: Harmless (Affiliate Link)
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Original Publication Date: 2006
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Borders
Other Blog Reviews: Big A little a, propernoun.net, interactivereader, Becky’s Book Reviews, Sara’s Holds Shelf, Kids Lit, I’m A Reading Fool
Extras: My Interview with Dana Reinhardt, Interview at Interactive Reader, Interview at Bildungsroman