Alice has been the victim of a traumatic attack by some young men who live in her small town of Oktober Bend. The trauma has left her unable to communicate easily with others and she mostly stays at home. She is, however, a gifted poet and it is largely through these that she communicates with the outside world. Much of what we learn about her as a character comes from her thoughts and poetry.
Into her life comes Manny, a former boy soldier who has also been the victim of trauma. His gentleness and protectiveness, despite all he has suffered, is in stark contrast with the local boys who attacked Alice. He is intrigued by the mysterious, anonymous poet who leaves poems tucked in odd places around the town (such as behind the timetable at the bus stop) and he follows this poetic trail to discover that it is Alice who is writing them. In a sense, the two are the ‘outsiders’ in the town and the friendship they form becomes a turning point for each of them.
The book is written with a dual narrative so we hear alternately from Manny and Alice. Each of these voices is authentic and convincing. Alice’s sections are seamlessly interwoven with her poems and the device adds a richness and complexity to the narrative. There is a cast of peripheral characters who drift in and out of the story and each of them is strongly drawn and convincing. The climactic scene of a flood in the town is dramatic and convincingly realised and allows for the construction of a scene of moving forgiveness when Alice, despite her fear, helps the ringleader of the gang which attacked her. This is a cleverly constructed book with great depth and which is both poignant and profound.