It was great until the end when it became awful.
Much of the current YA fiction seems to be depressing and morbid and while this book certainly fits both those descriptions, it is also well-written and hopeful.
I enjoyed the subtlety in which Frances releases herself from her emotional prison; smothering is an underlying topic not only because of the past she shares with her mother and dead sisters, but because of her smothering adoptive family and the way she smothers her own emotions. It was very easy for the me to feel Frances' growth as she breaks free of her past, her present and herself.
The trip she takes to confront her mother, her father, her memories, is poignant and memorable and while some of the scenes between her and her hero/savior/love-interest are a bit contrived, they are not unbelievable. The thee main teens are interesting and play well off each other. For most of the novel, Frances doesn't display much personality, nor does she seem very self-aware. Her best friend is the opposite and serves to show strength and confidence, as does the mysterious new boy who helps her save herself. These supporting characters serve to highlight just how shut-off and shut-down Frances is, how she has smothered everything about herself.
I was really taken with the book up until the end. Once Frances makes it to the safe-house where her mother is being kept, however, I felt the book became something like a screenplay for an episode of Scooby-Doo; the appearance of a nefarious villain, who wouldn't have been out of place in saying, "And it would have worked, too, had it not been for you meddling child!", bordered on the ridiculous. The book could have ended in the mental ward and that would have made sense, ending on a note of hope, love and redemption, but it seems the author wanted Frances to have a little more closure. I found that closure to be super-quick and unbelievable; people just don't get to tie up deep emotional problems so neatly or with the support of the volunteer fire department. I was horribly disappointed in the end and felt that I had been let down. Frances had been created as a real-feeling persona only to have that taken away so she could become a caricature for all abused children who have succesfully healed themselves and entered healthy adulthood.
Regardless, the book is still worth reading. Not only does it satisfy the horrified voyeur of the tragic and senseless, but it offers hope that even the worst cases can have healthy outcomes.