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Dani Spencer might only tell us half the story in this novel, but she's still the driving force behind almost everything that happens in our little tale. So let's check her out.
One of the first things we learn about Dani is that she's a total knockout. At least that's what all the boys in Raynesville think. But Dani is more than just a set of legs and a pretty, scarred face:
"I've been to four high schools in three years, I'm a straight-A student, I had a near perfect score on the SAT in my sophomore year, and I've broken ten swimming records." (6.19)
That's right, gentlemen. Dani Spencer didn't come to town to be gawked at by people who act like they've never seen a pretty girl before. She's smart, she's compassionate, she's kind, and she's also one kick-butt swimmer. So watch out for the waves she's about to make in this small town. She might be easy on the eyes, but she's a girl on a mission.
Dani moves to Raynesville after the deaths of her cousin and grandma. Up until this point, her life hasn't exactly been a bed of roses. She might be a kid, but she's been responsible for looking out for her drug-addicted mom all these years. This tells us a lot about Dani: Not only is she independent, but she's also smart and resourceful and she won't turn her back on her family.
It's pretty important that even though Dani could have left her mom and moved in with Grammie, she never wanted to:
When Mom's habit had spiraled out of control and she'd invited drug-soaked guys to live with us, I was sure I'd be sent to Grammie's. But it never happened[…] I'm convinced now that if I'd left my mom, she'd be dead […] There were times when I wanted to run away from Mom and find Grammie and Amy. But Mom needed me, and I couldn't desert her. (10.13)
Dani could have moved to a place that was safe and where she's be taken care of by a competent adult, but she wanted to protect her mom more than anything. Dani and her mom might not always get along, but they're still really close. Moving to their new home in Raynesville helps Dani see her mom differently and understand that even though she's a very flawed person, she is trying to get better. So let's go ahead and add forgiving to Dani's qualities, too. After all, she's open to seeing her mom differently and let bygones be bygones despite her mom letting her down so much over the years.
Dani's friendship with Amy is a key part of the story, too. Dani feels a whole lot of guilt when she hears that Amy's died, and she's upset that she was on the run and didn't know Amy died until weeks later. She also feels pretty guilty that she wasn't there for Amy when she needed her most:
Maybe I didn't want to think she'd been so sad and so alone that she'd finally decided life wasn't worth it. When I read her words and looked at her pictures, it was hard to comprehend how she could have been brought low enough by life's cruelties and mishaps to kill herself. Mostly, I was feeling guilty at the thought of it. I'd been hiding in sleazy motels, and she'd had no one to talk to. (28.1)
It's okay, Dani—we all make mistakes. Maybe this is why Dani's so determined to find out what happened to Amy, though: Dani needs to make good and sure that Amy didn't take her own life because if she did, Dani feels partly responsible for not being there for Amy in her time of need. She figures something pretty awful must have happened to Amy if that's what it came to.
Dani actually does some pretty impressive detective work in this story. Her search for the truth is the ball that keeps the plot rolling. Everyone in Raynesville is ready to believe that Amy killed herself—why wouldn't she after that mean Jake West broke her heart?—but Dani knows her cousin better than anyone and she's just not buying it.
Getting to the truth isn't easy, though, and just when it seems like Dani has come to terms with the fact that she'll never know why Amy died, she cracks the case. Well, Mr. Dermott actually cracks the case for her. By this time, Dani's pretty much run out of clues. Would she have ever traced Amy's stolen diary to Mr. Dermott? Would she eventually have dug deep enough to uncover his secrets? We don't know, but we're sure glad she didn't give up.
Dani's relationship with Jake is pretty complicated. On the one hand, this is the guy who rejected her cousin and might have driven the poor girl to take her own life, but on the other hand, he sure looks dreamy on that horse.
It helps that Jake isn't quite the villain Dani imagined him to be:
I was such a naïve goof thinking I could just walk in, find Jake West, hate him instantly, and reduce him to whimpering rubble. First of all, he didn't seem the least bit despicable. Secondly, everyone, including the teachers, seemed to worship him so why would he care about me. (8.3)
Nope, Jake is every bit the dreamboat Amy described him as. But that doesn't mean Dani doesn't have some really complicated feelings about liking Jake—after all, Amy did have an enormous crush on him. Is it a betrayal for Dani to like this guy? Sure, Amy's no longer available, but isn't there some kind of girl code for these types of situations? You don't date your dead best friend's crush or something like that? Dani grapples with these questions as she searches for the truth about Amy's death and gets to know Jake better.
In the end, Dani and Jake just give into the inevitable. They're crazy about each other, and since Jake isn't the villain everyone's made him out to be (Mr. Dermott is), all is well. Can someone please get these two a castle to live happily ever after in? Thank you.