Author Peter Johnson effectively uses an unnamed narrator to tell the haunting story of a teenager's struggle with family, sanity, and doing the right thing in his first young adult novel, What Happened. Four teenage boys leave a house party; the driver and shotgun passenger are high and inebriated, and the backseat passengers, the narrator and his brother, have been drinking . Reckless driving, a blinding snow storm, and slick roads cause the driver, Duane, to hit a man crossing the street. A split second decision has Kyle and his brother attend to the victim while Duane and his friend drive off. After an anonymous call to the police, the boys leave the scene for home. When the man dies from his injuries, decisions must be made regarding telling the truth, or what truth should be. A simple enough premise, but Johnson weaves elements of each individual character into the narrators story, effortlessly building his own "great chain of being." Via the narrator, readers become engaged in the character's complicated lives rifled by both good and bad decisions. As things unravel in a dangerously climactic scene, the ultimate resouding truth each character faces is belief and trust in self.
This was an intriguing novel. At first, I was a bit bereft not knowing the narrator's name, age, or what condition he had that required medication. I could surmise he was a teenager, younger than his brother, and possibly suffering from depression. As the novel progressed, the narrator's prose moved swiftly between past and present; his quirky conversational jumps a compelling contrast unfolding drama. Teenagers will be drawn to this novel, instinctivly understanding that sometimes there is no easy answer.