The charred black spot where Amy's car had landed sat directly below. It was as if my own jeep had turned against me, breaking down there on purpose to remind me that I was a jerk. Not that I needed reminding. (1.2)
This is one of the very first images in the novel and it shows us right away how Jake is feeling—he's the one to blame for Amy's suicide. Harsh.
Two years ago I would have been stoked to have a chance to assist the coach, but now the idea sucked big time. And my enthusiasm to compete had disappeared with the rest of my old self. Once I'd realized how this town spread gossip, rumors, and blame like soft butter on hot toast, I'd convinced myself I had to get out of here fast after high school. I had to carry the blame for Amy's suicide so everyone else could feel better that they had nothing to do with it. (3.18)
Amy's suicide must have been a really big deal in a little place like Raynesville. When tragedies like this happen, people generally want to find some simple answer; the town's solution is to blame Jake. Case closed. If everyone accepts this then no one else has to think about how they might have played a role in Amy's death.
Dermott and I had gotten along well in my first two years. But after Amy's suicide, he'd made it clear that I was to blame for her out of control dieting and downward spiral. He'd decided it was necessary to hire slick, preachy speakers to come and talk to the whole student body about saying hurtful things to each other. We'd had three assemblies last year alone, and every time I waited for a giant spotlight to come out of the auditorium ceiling and shine on my seat. (5.56)
Wow… Mr. Dermott is a pretty huge jerk. He basically paid people to come to school and talk about bullying in order to reinforce the idea that Jake's cruelty is what drove Amy over the edge. That's bullying turned up to eleven.
I should have been there for her. She was so totally alone. She should have been there for me. I was so totally alone. We should never have been separated. (10.8)
Jake isn't the only one feeling guilty over Amy's death; Dani wishes she had been able to be there for Amy. If Dani had been around, maybe Amy wouldn't have spiraled into such a terrible depression and none of this bad stuff would have ever happened. Maybe.
I knew the question on her lips. Why'd you do it? I dragged my gaze from hers.
"It was five stupid words. Amy was never supposed to hear them." My thoughts finally broke free, words I'd wanted to say to Dani since she'd walked into class. "I had no idea she was behind me, or I never would have said it." My jaw clenched as I thought about that day. I'd been set up by my own friends. They knew Amy was standing nearby. "It was too late. She'd heard me and when I'd seen the hurt expression on her face, I'd wanted to throw my fist through a wall. It was one of those regretful moments in life you can't take back." (17.33-34)
Jake might not think Amy killed herself over him, but he still feels badly that Amy essentially overheard him calling her fat (and undesirable for being so). Maybe that was what he thought, but he realizes how cruel it was to say it out loud and that's why he feels terrible. Blame is a complicated thing.
"Maybe no one is responsible, Dani. Maybe it's just like the report said. Maybe she killed herself. Or maybe she fell asleep at the wheel. Or maybe a deer jumped in front of her. Maybe she was a crappy driver. Maybe you should stop obsessing about it." The words shot out like bullets and each one brought her closer to tears and now my chest ached more. (27.65)
Jake makes some good points here. Dani is on the lookout for some answers, but Jake tells her she may never find them—Amy's death might have just been one of those things that happen without it being anyone's fault. This is tough for Dani to accept.
I didn't know why I couldn't accept the fact that Amy killed herself. 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)
Dani can't blame Jake for hurting Amy when she failed her, too. Dani had her own problems, so she couldn't be there for Amy when she needed her. Would things have been different if Dani weren't on the run?
"Stay away from Dani Spencer. She has a good chance at a scholarship, and she doesn't need you hanging around screwing up her opportunity."
"What are you talking about? And how is it any of your business if we hang out together?"
His nostrils flared in anger as he put his fists down on the desktop and leaned forward. "You've done enough damage to her family. You don't need to mess with Dani's head too."
"You sound just like the coach only he wasn't quite so threatening. I know the coach is just worried about winning, but I don't get your motive. How can I possibly stop her from getting a scholarship?"
His jaw was clenched tight. "Because you're a player, Jake. Everyone knows it." (29.42-46)
Slam. Mr. Dermott isn't the only one who thinks this about Jake, but he's the one who says it most boldly: Jake messed with Amy and now he's messing with Dani, too. So not true, though…
Danielle "Dani" Spencer
"Jake doesn't deserve any of the grief he's been given about Amy's death. She adored him, yes. And he said something stupid that I'll never forgive him for… I doubt he'll ever forgive himself, but he had never intended to hurt her. That I know for a fact. And my cousin was too damn smart to go dramatic and suicidal about a guy, any guy, even Jake West." (32.25)
Dani finally sticks up for Jake. She realizes that he's not the one to blame for Amy's death, and while she may never know what really happened, she knows Amy didn't kill herself because Jake West thought she wasn't thin enough. Amy was a stronger person than that.
"It was all her fault. She claimed she was going to tell the school board. I went to stop her. I had no idea she would swerve off the road," Mr. Dermott blurted. Sweat was pouring off of his forehead, and his eyes nearly popped from his face. "I tried to climb down to help, but the car burst into flames. It was hopeless."
"You and Amy?"
"It was just a brief affair. It meant nothing." His eyes grew wider.
"You caused Amy's death?" I could hardly believe I was saying it. "After everything you did to make me feel responsible for it, you were the cause of it all along." (35.33-36)
And now it all comes out. Mr. Dermott is the one responsible for Amy's death. It's interesting how he opens his little confession by blaming Amy. Yeah… you go with that, Mr. Dermott. Needless to say, Jake is pretty ticked that Mr. Dermott tried to pin everything on him when he knew Jake wasn't to blame at all. This teacher is one very bad dude.