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Harmless    by Dana Reinhardt order for
by Dana Reinhardt
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Wendy Lamb Books, 2007 (2007)
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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Dana Reinhardt - who also wrote A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life - has penned a powerful story of three teen girls, a few small lies, and then another that catapults their lives in different directions. Anna, Emma, and Mariah painfully learn the harm lies can do to friendship, community, and families, but especially the damage that results to their own emotional and mental well-being. Harmless is narrated by three freshman friends at Orsonville Day School.

Their story begins as Anna reflects, 'This is what I know about the truth: the farther ... it gets away from you, the harder it is to tell ... I wish more than anything that I could go back to that night ... undo everything we did.' Anna is an only child whose parents trust and believe in her. Emma reminisces about her family's move to the country, where her parents wanted 'a real neighborhood where we could ride our bikes up and down the tree-lined streets. Well, New York City is real too ... in a different way, and I don't know why everyone seems to think life in the country is so much better. And safer. It's not. I know that for a fact ... in a small town I know what it feels like to live in a cage.'

Mariah arrived at Orsonville, with a reputation as the 'coolest in the freshman class'. She has it all - looks, bubbling personality, a big house and swimming pool, and a loving mother who married wealth. Stepfather Carl criticizes Mariah for too much makeup, the way she dresses, and her sassy attitude. Mariah's boyfriend DJ is a senior at the Orsonville Public School, who hangs with a crowd. Mariah muses, 'I'm not an irresponsible person. I know the dangers of petting ... Especially if he's been drinking something that burns your throat and comes concealed in a paper bag ... some may see me as a slut, bitch, and stuck up ... They didn't know how I used to live before Mom met Carl. They didn't know anything about me. Nothing at all.'

The threesome's parents differ in social standing and careers. Anna's Mom is an administrator for a college program 'for kids who come from poor neighborhoods and underperforming high schools', while Dad works at Compu-Corp. Emma's parents are professors at the local college, who moved away from the City because of a sexual harassment charge against her father. Mariah has a criticizing image-struck stepdad, while mom stays at home to care for her six-year old stepdaughter. When the lies begin about where they are going for the evening, the possibility of the parents cross-checking, or crossing each other's paths is negligible. The three give excuses about meeting at the library when they are actually by the river, the train tracks, or fields behind the school.

One Friday night, the threesome are supposedly at a Jane Austen movie, but Emma's parents drop in at the movie house to surprise the girls. Emma's cell phone rings, 'Where are you?' The three had been dropped off by the river, and now must come up with a cover story. They concoct a very serious one - an assault on Emma by a vagrant at knifepoint, while Anna and Mariah hit the man on the head with a rock. The mountain gets higher as school officials proclaim the girls heroes. Across the river in the town of Kapachuck, twelve-year old sixth-grader Ellie has gone missing. Police connect the two incidents, arresting a man who has often made his home by the river.

Dana Reinhardt presents a resounding story in three-voice harmony, building suspense to a climax, followed by repercussions. Emma becomes withdrawn and wracked with guilt, while Anna revels in the spotlight (at first), and Mariah just wants the whole ordeal to be over. Each voice is distinct, contributing to the easy flow and grasp of a story with unexpected consequences. The author says, 'Everyone's told lies. Most lies aren't even that bad. They don't hurt anyone ... they're just - 'harmless'.'

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