The Sharp Time spans just one week in the life of high school senior Sandinista Jones. Her post-graduation plans fell apart when her mother died unexpectedly, and after a conflict with a teacher makes school seem like anything but a safe haven, she’s alone and frightened, but also very angry and out for revenge. A possible channel for her angst appears when she takes a part-time job at a vintage clothing shop, The Pale Circus, and finds a potential soul mate in co-worker Bradley. Yet such intense focus on her own drama causes her at first to miss the fact that Bradley has significant troubles of his own. Maybe their friendship can lead them both to some healing and resolution. If not, her punk rock name isn’t going to be the scariest thing Sandinista turns loose on the streets of Kansas City.
Mary O’Connell has given us a bright, energetic heroine who manages to keep a sense of humor despite suffering some very hard knocks. The book opens up discussions of a lot of big issues—teacher-student bullying, Catholic sex abuse, gun control, grief, revenge, vandalism, theft—and doesn’t offer any pat answers, making The Sharp Time a good pick for reading groups. You can’t call it a happy ending, but there’s comfort in seeing Sandinista learn that when bad things happen, “you just have to take it, you have to feel it. There is nothing else.” That, and a friend who’s got your back, just might be enough.