'Without Merit' by Colleen Hoover (AtriaBooks)

Merit and Honor are identical 17-year-old twins, living in a remodelled church somewhere in Texas. Their father lives with their mother, Victoria, who was meant to die of cancer but didn’t, and another Victoria, her nurse. 

There is an older brother Utah, a younger brother Moby (named after Moby Dick), a terribly wise young man called Sagan (named after Carl Sagan) and another young man called Luck. With names like these you can be sure the novel’s themes incorporate these qualities. 

Merit collects trophies to mark failures in her young life, and falls head over heels in love with Sagan, who is actually Honor’s boyfriend. Of course there are the mix-ups between the two, deliberate and by accident. But is anything as it seems? 

The story is told in the first person through the eyes of Merit. Merit looks around her and sees deep and dark secrets which their keepers entrust her with. As a result, she becomes the keeper of all the secrets of what she perceives to be a seriously dysfunctional family. Overburdened, she eventually crashes out – spectacularly – after which certain issues are resolved. It’s a well-told story, gripping to the end. 

A must for any teenager who grapples with serious questions like: What is the significance of your first sexual experience? Is there a place for God in our lives? How do we, at the tender age of 17, develop an empathy for others, including what appear to be your wayward parents? What is depression? 

The transition from childhood to adulthood takes its toll. In the words of Merit: “It’s that no one has the courage to take the first step in talking about the issues.” 

This is a good novel for teenagers to read, and one hopes that it helps families talk together and initiate the wonderful and challenging conversations teenagers and young adults are so good at.