Barnard has previously wowed me with her chilling toxic-relationship novel Fragile Like Us and again she delivers a cut-to-the-bone look at the dynamics of friendship. Her characters are never perfect, but are perfectly depicted. In this case, we come to understand (alongside Peyton herself) the dysfunctional behaviors she developed while being bullied and even the root causes (over-sensitivity, anxiety, unrealistic expectations) that put her in that position. This includes dealing with the PTSD she experiences as seemingly normal events trigger bad memories, the slow rebuilding of her trust in others, and the confidence to stand up for her needs.\
She doesn't do any of this alone. Along the way, there are plenty of good conversations with her fellow travelers who each have lessons to share (it's hard not to feel jealous for the kindness that Peyton receives from her friends in Canada -- it's a dream team of youth hostelers). Peyton gets a lot out of these experiences. She is reflective and always the agent of her own healing. That is an empowering message for readers.
Another aspect of the book that I found empowering was the maturity of its discourse. Payton's interactions with others show maturity, kindness, and empathy. You know that you would be good friends with her if she were real. Even Peyton's conflicts with her parents are handled maturely and respectfully. Barnard doesn't create selfish parents for Peyton to rebel against. Instead, the grownups have needs that are presented as just as valid as Peyton's.
The drama in the story is real and authentic. Growing up is hard and Peyton shows us the way to get through. I have to say that my affection for the book is at least somewhat tied to the gut punch it gave me and the extent to which I personally related to Peyton's issues. If you have ever doubted your interpersonal skills or felt that your ability to make friends was being held back by your distrust of others, there are some chilling moments of self-recognition awaiting you in these pages.