Jessica's best friend, Casey, is ostracized for being the prime suspect in the death of a young girl and Jessica is torn between joining the townsfolk in their irrational condemnation or having the courage to stand up for the innocence of her best friend. Jessica is a regular teenage girl who just wants to enjoy the end of her summer vacation, after having worked really hard with difficult and annoying children at a local summer camp. The summer camp ended on a serious note because one of the young girls has disappeared and her best friend was the one who was supposed to be responsible for watching her. On the first church congregation after Jessica comes home from camp, she witnesses her best friend, Casey, get arrested for the death of the little girl who was named Stephanie. Jessica's mom thinks the whole ordeal is a huge mistake as she knows Casey to be a good girl. She tries to convince the cops to no avail. One day, the chief investigating officer, Detective Ann Bowen, arrives at Jessica's house to interrogate her about what happened at camp when Jessica disappeared. The Detective tells Jessica that a tinker bell t-shirt that Stephanie last wore before she disappeared was found in Casey's duffle bag with both Stephanie's and Casey's blood on it. Jessica has no idea why Casey has that t-shirt but she is sure that her best friend is innocent and the real killer is still on the loose. Eventually, she explains that the t-shirt has Stephanie's blood on it because she had a nose bleed that day and Casey's blood was on the t-shirt because Stephanie scratched her while being a brat about getting treated.
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The detective continues to question Jessica over the next few weeks. Jessica explains that Stephanie was a difficult camper because she had a tendency to disappear, causing all the camp counselors to get worried. She explains that on the day of Stephanie's disappearance, they had been hiking through the woods. After noticing Stephanie's disappearance, Casey retraced the hiking paths in search for her but could not find her. Apparently Casey has become the prime suspect because she made an unfortunate joke about having stuffed Stephanie in a hollow tree which happened to be where they found the little girl's body. Meanwhile, rumors spread through the town of Galloway that Casey is a pervert or a freak and TV crews and reporters are soaking up all the gossip. The townsfolk start to paint Casey as a monster and they ostracize her and her family. Casey is sentenced to a youth detention camp. She writes letters to Jessica telling of how she feels like somehow she is responsible for Stephanie's death because of her negligence to watch over the little girl. Jessica is careless with the letter and it ends up getting printed by the school newspaper and used to make Casey into an even bigger monster. Casey's interest for insects makes her look like the serial killer from the Silence of the Lambs.
Meanwhile, Jessica finds she can't stand up for Casey when Stephanie's mom accuses her of being as guilty as Casey for her daughter's death because she didn't tell the world that Casey was a freak. Jessica feels like she gets the brunt of the townsfolk's hatred and anger just because she is Casey's friend. One of Jessica's lawyers figures out that Jessica was the one who packed Casey's duffle bag and suggests that she planted the t-shirt there because she thought Casey did kill Stephanie. Jessica is appalled that the lawyer would think that way and she is frustrated that she can't explain herself properly. Jessica is tired of being constantly accosted for being Casey's friend. She just wants a normal life again. She becomes irrationally angry that Casey has ruined her life. She stops answering Casey's letters even though Casey keeps sending them.
Jessica's mom becomes almost obsessive about defending Casey and her family from the vandalism and ostracization they receive. She is even threatened to be arrested for stirring up trouble at work. Jessica thinks her mom is going crazy again. Apparently her mom used to take pills to help control her mood swings. Jessica and her father worry that they may have to commit her mom to a mental ward. Meanwhile, Mrs. Burke, a biology teacher at school becomes very upset that there is so much slandering on Casey that she locks herself up in the intercom office to talk about how Casey was accused of something she didn't do. Most of the kids start whispering that Mrs. Burke and Casey are lesbians and freaks that are both obsessed with bugs. Mrs. Burke ends up being arrested.
Jessica continues to ignore Casey and refuse to stand up for her friend. She even hangs out with the “cool” group of kids at school who are all interested in learning all there is to know about Casey. Jessica pretends that she's doing Casey a favor by telling everyone stories that humanize her in some way but really she is just desperate for friendship and acceptance. They finally ask Jessica whether she thinks Casey is guilty. Jessica says no. They ask her if she thinks a jury would think Casey was innocent and Jessica admits that Casey sounds like she's guilty. After making that statement, Jessica finds out that the kids had videotaped her and the footage was sold to talk shows and newspapers. Jessica is furious. Her mom is so disappointed in her that she stops talking to her.
Jessica is summoned to testify at court in Casey's murder trial. Just at the moment when the attorney asks Jessica whether she put the tinker bell t-shirt in Casey's duffle bag, the court proceedings are interrupted. Suddenly, all charges against Casey are dropped and she is free to go. The real serial killer is caught and he admits to killing Stephanie. Jessica is left to think, guiltily and angrily, that she incriminated her friend Casey by putting the tinker bell t-shirt into her bag that day, long ago, when they had tried to search for Stephanie. It was an innocent mistake – Jessica was just too lazy to dispose of it properly and Casey's bag was the closest thing available. Jessica feels disgusted with herself for being a coward and letting the general anger and hatred of Galloway peer pressure her into taking the easy way out by also accusing her best friend of the murder when she should have been standing up for her. The story ends with Casey being released and going back to school, but she doesn't treat Jessica as a friend anymore.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought Deborah Ellis did a very good job portraying the complex emotions and pressures that Jessica faces as the best friend of an accused criminal and how her loyalty and courage are put to the test.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Casey is finally vindicated and released from prison. Throughout her ordeal, Casey writes letters that are full of hope and confidence that her innocence of the crime will be proven. I'm glad that the townsfolk are forced to self-reflect on their animalistic and monstrous actions towards Casey, her family and all those who supported her innocence.
Opinion about the main character:
I didn't like Jessica because she gave into peer pressure and would rather join the mob of angry and irrational townsfolk who don't know anything about Casey than vouch for her best friend. I didn't like how Jessica went around school telling people all the secrets Casey trusted her with just so that she could try to win favor from the popular kids. It was pretty low of her to let others use this information to further demonize Casey.