Jake West is the big man on campus at Raynesville High. All the boys want to be him and all the girls want to date him. You may think you know the type, but let's find out more about him—there's more to Jake than meets the eye.
Like Dani, Jake is a total hottie. Amy and Dani aren't alone is thinking he's a complete dreamboat, and, honestly, we have to admit that the ladies kind of have a point:
"Is he cute?" she called.
I stopped for a moment and thought about him. "He's a pretty heavy duty package of sweetness." My voice echoed in the empty hallway. There, that was number three. And that was why Amy had gone so batshit crazy over the guy. (8.20-21)
Jake is smoking hot and at the top of his game before Amy dies. He's the star swimmer on Raynesville's championship swim team, he's dating the cutest girl in school, and everyone thinks he's pretty much the coolest kid around. Not to mention that he also lives on a horse farm. Yup, the guy has his own ponies. Just try to resist him now, naysayers.
Thing is, once Amy takes her own life, the town promptly blames Jake for it and he goes downhill pretty fast. Jake dumps his hot girlfriend, he quits the championship team, and his grades take a nosedive. He also grows his hair long, which not everyone thinks is a good look for him.
But why the big changes? After all, it's pretty clear that Jake doesn't actually think he was responsible for Amy's suicide:
"Amy didn't kill herself because of you."
Her statement stunned me at first. I stared out at the frothy water. "My head's not that bloated. I never thought she did. The town decided it was because of me. I know she liked me but…" (19.59-60)
But it's also obvious that Jake is freaked out because he isn't totally blameless. He did pretty much call Amy fat and reject her, which must have been super awkward and embarrassing for her. And because Jake's not a total turd, he wasn't too proud of himself for that moment. He blames other people a bit saying he'd "been set up by [his] own friends" (17.34), but he can't change the fact that he didn't care about Amy because she was a little too hefty for him. And he doesn't feel good about this.
Does this make Jake shallow? After all, he's not into Amy because of her weight, but he's all over the gorgeous yet vapid Katrina—and the first thing he notices about Dani is her looks. Sure, later he realizes she's actually an awesome person, but it's the legs that first draw him in, not the brains.
So would Jake and Amy ever have gotten together if she'd stayed alive? Maybe. After Amy overheard Jake's cruel little comment, he mentions that he started to take more of an interest in her:
I had to confess that even though she'd lived next door for three years, I'd never really paid any attention to her before that. But after rumors began that Amy was crash dieting because of what I'd said, I'd kept an eye on her without her realizing. It wasn't long before I discovered her sense of humor and incredible artistic talent. (19.69)
He also follows her into the woods and comes across her secret painting place. Heck, he even starts growing his hair long because she likes it that way. Does Jake have the beginnings of a crush on Amy? Was he in the middle of discovering just how dateable she was when she died? Maybe, though it's tough to tell. When Jake talks about Amy, he mentions how talented she was and how she was probably a great person, but he never ever hints that he was attracted to her even after she started dropping the pounds.
So maybe Jake and Amy were on their way to becoming really good friends instead of starting up their own torrid romance? We'll never know for sure.
Jake's biggest challenge of the story comes along in the form of Dani. From the moment he sees her, he obviously likes this girl a lot. Like, really a lot:
It didn't matter where I sat. I couldn't hear anything Ms. Miller was saying over the pounding in my chest. And I couldn't see anything past the doll-like profile of the new girl. Amy's cousin. She looked absurdly girlish beneath the harsh layers of make-up, denim and leather. Aside from a tiny scar on her upper lip and a short jagged scar on her chin, she was flawless. And deep down, I hoped that she didn't know anything about Jake West. (7.17)
The boy can barely see straight when she walks into the room. He's got it bad. But he knows that a girl like Dani is not going to want to date him. After all, he's Jake West—destroyer of hearts. How could Dani want to be with the guy who drove her cousin to suicide, even if that rumor isn't totally true?
Luckily for Jake, Dani can see past all the suicide drama to the guy he is inside. She realizes that he's actually a really kind person. He befriends people who might be considered underdogs, he helps people in little ways, and he saves Dani's hide more times than we can count. Yeah, this guy is prime hero material.
Most importantly, Dani helps Jake on the road to healing. Because she doesn't hold him responsible for Amy's death, Jake is able to ease up on himself a little. He doesn't have to keep beating himself up about what he said to Amy; he can let it go and move on with his life knowing that he didn't actually drive a perfectly lovely girl to commit suicide.
Luckily, he can also ride off into the sunset with Dani. Good luck, you two crazy lovebirds.