Shelby Richmond is a high school senior preparing to attend NYU with her best friend, Helene Boyd, when an automobile accident intervenes. The car Shelby is driving skids on a patch of ice, leaving Helene in a perpetual coma and Shelby with only minor injuries.
Unable to get past the guilt, Shelby has a nervous breakdown and is institutionalized for several months. Afterwards, Shelby holes up in her parents basement, eats little, cuts herself, smokes pot, shaves her head, and sleeps as much as she can. Shelby's parents gamely pay for her first year's college tuition, but lose the money when Shelby doesn't go. One of Shelby's few human interactions is with Ben Mink, a pot dealer she's known since they were children. Though they don't talk much, Shelby feels comfortable with Ben, who also seems a bit lost.
The one thing Shelby values are occasional anonymous postcards delivered to her house, with original drawings and messages like 'Be Something' and 'Feel Something.' Shelby feels like someone cares about her - and even wonders if that person is somehow Helene. In fact, some people think brain-dead Helene has special powers, and visit her to be healed - which Shelby finds abhorrent.
After Shelby has been hanging around with Ben for a couple of years, he - almost embarassedly - confides that he's been taking an independent study course at college, has graduated, and is going to pharmacy school in New York. Ben persuades Shelby to move to the city with him and they get a tiny apartment on Manhattan's west side, where they share a bed and eat lots of take-out Chinese food.
Eventually Shelby gets a job stacking shelves at a pet store, which requires little interaction with other people, including her co-workers. In time, though, Shelby becomes friends with her colleague Maravelle, a single mother with a teen daughter and twin sons in grade school. When Maravelle's called away, she even trusts Shelby to kidsit for a few days, and this is a critical event in Shelby's recovery.
Damaged as she is, Shelby has a soft spot for animals, and launches two rescue operations. First, Shelby kidnaps two hungry, dirty, bedraggled dogs...a little mutt and a bulldog... who are being rented out to homeless people - to help them beg for money. Shelby calls the small, semi-blind mutt 'Blinkie' and the bulldog 'General Tso.' Later, Shelby cuts through a fence to free a chained-up, mistreated Great Pyrenees, and names him 'Pablo.' The canines join Shelby and Ben in their little apartment, and Shelby - who's now the manager of the pet shop - gives herself discounts for animal supplies.
After making a quirky deal with a bilingal (Russian-English) hospital orderly who does her a favor, Shelby even stops shaving her head. Around this time Shelby also meets a handsome veterinarian, Harper Levy, which leads to major changes in her life.
In the course of the story, Shelby interacts with a variety of characters, including: a nasty homeless girl; an adulterer; a Chinese restaurant delivery boy; her supportive mother; her distant father; a bully who won't take no for an answer; a pregnant woman; Helene's grieving parents; a tatoo artist; and others.....all of whom have some role in her inch-by-inch healing.
This is a moving story of a young woman's emotional journey, but Shelby's not always a likable girl. I admired Shelby's tenderness toward her dogs, but was put off by her callousness towards some humans, including those who cared for her most. I'm not sure PTSD can excuse this.
On the other hand, Ben Mink is a 'prince.' He looks after Shelby; lets her bring three dogs into their little apartment; overlooks her worst behavior; and more. Every girl should have a guy like this....if just for a little while. LOL
All in all, this is an uplifting tale that show's there can be recovery - and happiness - after a life-altering tragedy.