As the novel opens, we learn that three years ago, Deanna Lambert was caught in flagrante delicto with Tommy Weber in the back of his Buick. By her father, who has since refused to meet her eyes or speak with her, despite her numerous attempts to apologize. As she lives and attends school in the small town of Pacifica, California, everyone in her school quickly learns about the incident, with various false slants by Tommy, and hence she's considered a slut, notwithstanding that Tommy was her one and only trysting partner. And that he's been over for three years.
While the issue of reputation amongst peers is raised by the novel, the real core of the issue can be summed up with a bit of Shakespeare's take on the subject, from Othello. Frequent readers will know that I like this one so much I've got it memorized, even if I still have to look up the act and scene. (Turns out it's Act 2, Sc. 3):
&emsp Reputation is an idle and most false imposition: Oft got without merit, and lost
&emsp without deserving; you have lost no reputation at all unless you repute yourself
&emsp such a loser.
The thing is, in her heart of hearts, Deanna reputes herself such a loser. And during the course of the book, Deanna examines why she made the choice she did in the first place -- not for love, certainly -- and why she hasn't been able to let it go. Her yearning for a return to a happy relationship with her father, who she remembers from the time before he was layed off from the job he loved (long before Tommy's Buick), permeates the book. Her yearning to feel worthy of love and respect will ring true with teen readers, even if they haven't experienced Deanna's particular losses. And that particular desire extends to her relationships with everyone else around her -- her brother and his girlfriend, who have a young child together; her friend Jason, who she introduced to her one true girlfriend, Lee, the two of whom are now dating; and even Tommy Webber, who turns out to work at the same crappy pizza joint as Deanna for the summer.
Between the chapters of the book are some journal entries from Deanna. At first, I wasn't sure what they might add, since the entire novel is first-person p.o.v. anyhow. But it quickly became clear to me that in art, as in life, journaling is a very different kind of writing. We "feel" Deanna most clearly in her journal entries, even if she's not always sure what she feels herself. We see Deanna most clearly in her ongoing narrative. But we hear her, all of her, by putting those parts together.
At the core of the novel are issues not only of reputation, but of forgiveness and acceptance, as Deanna makes new decisions, and starts to move forward into the rest of her life.