The small town of Worthy, Georgia is shattered when three high school cheerleaders are killed in a car accident caused by another student at their school. Told from the points of view of four women – Ava, a teacher at the school; Marglyn, the mother of one of the cheerleaders; Darcy, the mother of the boy who drove the car that killed the girls; and Leah, the fourth member of the group of girls, the one who was not in the car that night – this is the story of how the town deals with a horrifying tragedy and how the mystery of what really happened that night is concluded.
When We Were Worthy was a great reading experience – the kind of book that I can’t help but race through, desperate to find out the characters’ fate and fill in the missing details about their lives and this huge event that had reverberating impacts among the community. I loved getting to know these characters, trying to understand their motivations, feelings, and behaviors, and trying to predict how things would turn out for them. The story is told from four different points of view, and while sometimes this format can turn into a big mess, Whalen handled it extremely well, deftly weaving the voices of these four women throughout the book, gradually showing the reader each of their personalities as the book went on.
One thing this novel does really well is illuminate that particular period in a person’s life that is called being a teenager. These teens think they know everything, think they understand the world around them and their part within it, and in some cases their eyes are more open to the realities of the world than the parents and teachers in their lives, but in a lot of cases they are just incredibly naïve. It is an interesting period in life for a lot of reasons, but primarily because the juxtaposition of feeling like an adult in body and mind while at the same time, not having money or freedom or the right to do a lot of things. The teenagers in this book are exactly like that – they think they get it, they think they rule the world (or at least, their small town that essentially is their world), but they have no idea how swiftly life can be taken from them, how quickly everything can change in an instant. That’s the part of life that they aren’t worldly enough yet to get – they think they are invincible and, unfortunately, nobody is.
And let’s talk about the adults in the novel – they were more messed up than the kids in some cases. Every single person in this novel is dealing with demons, struggling with something, and making choices that profoundly affect their families. The adults really don’t have things together any better than the teens do, and unfortunately that comes with some majorly bad consequences for a few of them. I did like about this novel that Whalen mostly wraps up everyone’s stories in a way that is satisfying and makes sense, while not giving people a perfect, happy ending. It’s true to life the way she handles these characters’ situations and life choices. If I had ONE criticism of the book – and I really just have this one – I will say that there was one storyline with one particular character that I felt added nothing to the story whatsoever and was, frankly, unnecessary and a distraction from everything that I thought the book really should have been focusing on. However, it was an extra element of drama so I’m sure plenty of readers were interested in that particular plot line. I just didn’t think it was helpful to the overall story at all.
Anyway, I really liked When We Were Worthy! It was equal parts character-driven and plot-driven and I thought Whalen did a great job with both elements of the book. Highly recommended.