Plum-Ucci, Carol. What Happened to Lani Garver? New York: Harcourt, 2002. 314 pages.
Lani Garver’s arrival on Hackett Island does not go unnoticed. For one thing, the student body of Coast Regional High School cannot decide on Lani’s gender. However, Claire McKenzie, a popular student who also has a soft heart for outcasts, befriends Lani and the two quickly form a strong bond. Despite Claire’s popularity at school and her seemingly wonderful boyfriend, she is facing some demons of her own: the possibility that her leukemia is returning and an eating disorder that is quickly gaining control of her life. With Lani’s help, Claire comes to realize the cruelty of her friends and the meaning of true friendship; she also grapples with the probability that Lani was in fact a floating angel.
Plum-Ucci tackles heavy issues such as, homosexuality, eating disorders, chronic illnesses, spirituality, and the dangers of popularity, but does not become preachy at any point throughout the novel; instead, she simply acknowledges that some things can never be explained and leaves the reader to figure things out for himself/herself.
What Happened to Lani Garver? depicts the haunting reality of life of an outcast and what happens to individuals who befriend an outcast in a small town. While the reader may never be certain as to what exactly did happen to Lani Garver, the messages contained in this novel will not be easy to forget.
The cover of the book is extremely mysterious; it features a teen, but it is unclear if the teen depicted is male or female. However, aside from the photograph of the teen, the cover is extremely plain and may not attract some teen readers.