Peter Stone's family has moved from the city to the countryside so Peter can get a fresh start. Something terrible happened to him and while his family is supportive on the outside, they keep trying to change him on the inside. His mom and dad fight more than is healthy and Peter has to get away from the noise. While wandering the countryside he finds a peaceful valley that literally speaks to him through the animals and insects. He meets Annie Blythe, artist extraordinaire, with a cancer riddled body. Together they face their problems trying to overcome bullies and adults that subvert their voices.
Peter's family comes off as neglectful at first then overly protective later. They don't communicate with Peter and the parents are having marital problems since his dad lost his job. The beginning presents the parents as not really caring about Peter who goes off for hours and no one notices. Then they suddenly notice and everyone is worried to the point he is grounded. Peter is supposedly fragile but his internal voice seems awfully clear-headed to me. I didn't see him as having serious problems. The author shows his fears and inability to speak, but that is it. I wanted more. The one-dimensional bullies never really come to life either and while it is revealed their parents abuse them and one of them is not as cruel as the other, I thought the accident would expose them and their parents with a telling scene. That action is left hanging and unresolved.
Sometimes the plot is predictable and other times it is not. The magic is conveniently used when the plot needs to move forward or the humans make a bad decision. This made it feel contrived and at the end when Peter talks to his family he doesn't come across as a broken kid that has learned life lessons, he comes across as a kid that has been wronged by the adults in his life who have misunderstood him and forced him to do things that he didn't want to do. He says some mean things to Annie but I think the first person narrative worked against giving the reader a well-rounded view of who Peter really was and what he had dealt with in the past. He's not very melancholy or raw emotionally. Instead he tells too much versus showing it.
The artistic Annie has some interesting insights into art. She tries to teach Peter that art transforms and he is transformed to some extent by their friendship. At the end the resolution happens off the page and the wrap up was a bit anti-climatic. The bullying Annie endures doesn't make sense either. Again, I think the point of view worked against rounding out the characters in a more sympathetic way or in a way that I could get sucked into the storyline. As is, I kept noticing the craft which kept me from magically disappearing into the story.
I kept thinking the story might be like "No Fault in the Stars," but it does not look at cancer in the way that one does. It does remind me of the Romantic writers of the 1800's, such as Frances Hodgeson Burnett's, "The Secret Garden," that uses nature to the extent where it is almost a religious experience for the characters in its power to heal. While I like Loftin's word choices and voice, I just couldn't get into this one like her other one.