Annabel, our narrator, is definitely in a tough place. She's entering another year of high school and isn't looking forward to it at all. Her best friend Sophie absolutely hates her and she doesn't even have a single person to sit with at lunch. On top of that, family issues are bubbling to the surface and she's keeping a deep, dark secret to herself—she was raped by Sophie's boyfriend, Will, over the summer. Talk about some serious growing pains.
Annabel is the kind of girl who doesn't know what her place in the world is yet. She's the youngest child of three, so she's always felt like she's followed in her sisters' shadows and doesn't have a defined personality of her own. She explains:
As for me, I fell somewhere between my sisters and their strong personalities, the very personification of the vast gray area that separated them. I was not bold and outspoken, or silent and calculating. I had no idea how anybody would describe me, or what would come to mind at the sound of my name. (1.73)
This dynamic just repeats itself when she meets Sophie, who is brash and outspoken in a way that Annabel could never be. Sophie has enough personality and opinionated views for the both of them, so when they're together Annabel doesn't really have to make her own decisions—she just stands by idly as Sophie decides what to do and who to torment:
There was a karmic aspect to this, although I didn't like to think about it. The truth was, it hadn't been that long ago that I'd been the one who walked alongside Sophie while she did her dirty work, when I was the person who, while not taking part in the slur, didn't stop it, either. (4.5)
As a result, when they have a falling out Annabel doesn't know what to do with herself. She's left to wander around until she finds Owen, who convinces her that she does have a personality worth showing. She's just been hiding it all this time.
One of Annabel's main traits is that she just wants to make other people happy. It's great that she's nice, but she often lets this get in the way of her own wants and needs. She doesn't want to tell Sophie that Will raped her because Sophie absolutely loves Will, and she doesn't want to tell her mom that she wants to quit modeling either. She would rather keep things in than hurt people, which is at least partially a response to what she's gone through with her mother's depression:
What I did get was that it was paramount that we protect my mom from anything that might upset her, even if I wasn't sure what those things were. So I learned another system: When in doubt, keep it out—out of earshot, out of the house—even if this meant, really, just keeping it in. (2.70)
So when Annabel first meets Owen, and he calls her out on the fact that she won't tell him the truth, it's a pretty big moment for her. When he asks her how she liked his radio show, she hesitates and then responds with something noncommittal:
Honesty in principle was one thing. In someone's face, another.
"Well," I began. "It was… interesting." (7.8-9)
Owen immediately demands to know how she really feels. She starts to realize that she can't go around telling people only the things that will make them happy—she has to start being honest and thinking about herself. By the end she's able to overcome her desire to keep everyone happy and reveals to her parents the details of her rape and the fact that she wants to quit modeling. And despite her fears, she hasn't disappointed anyone; instead they all rush to support her.
Annabel doesn't seem like a strong person at the beginning. In fact, she doesn't even believe that she's strong—she's convinced that she's always been weak and unsure of herself. When she gets to school, she has no idea how she's going to deal with Sophie's rejection and ire:
My face was flushed, and I could feel people staring. I wasn't ready for this, but then I probably never would be, and this year, like so much else, wouldn't wait. (1.21)
But over time it becomes clear that Annabel underestimates herself. She can take care of a lot; in fact, she's carrying a great deal of emotional weight when it comes to her rape and her family. And even though she initially thinks that she simply can't tell anyone about the rape like Emily does, she somehow gains the strength. She doesn't believe in herself, but Owen sees her inner strength and tells her that he knows she can do it:
"But I'm scared. I don't know if I can do it."
"Of course you can," he said.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because you just did," he said. "Coming here, and telling me that? That's huge. Most people couldn't do it. But you did." (18.92-95)
By the end, Annabel is able to tell her family about what happened and testify so that Will Cash gets convicted. She may have thought of herself as a shy, shrinking flower, but she's actually a powerful young woman who can make serious changes in the world. She may need to be nudged and reminded of these facts from time to time, but she's come a long way.