Alice Franklin is rumored to have slept with two boys at the same party. One of the boys, Brandon Fitzsimmons — star quarterback and virtual celebrity of their small town — dies in a car accident two weeks later.
This story is told in first person by four different teenagers: Elaine, the most popular girl in school, who had an on-again, off-again relationship with Brandon; Kelsie, Alice Franklin’s best friend; Josh, Brandon’s best friend; and Kurt, the ultra-nerd, who has loved Alice for much of his life.
Elaine tells how Alice slept with Brandon and another boy at a party in her house. The once popular Alice was immediately labeled a slut and was shunned by almost everyone. When it then became known that the reason Brandon lost control of his car was because Alice sent him lurid texts, everyone in their small town shuns her. Although Elaine was on good terms with Alice before the party, she had never really forgiven her for messing around with Brandon at a dance when the three of them were in middle school.
Kelsie, Alice’s best friend, was home sick the night of Elaine’s party. Alice called her the next day asking if Kelsie had heard any rumors. Kelsie lies and says she had only received one text about it. Alice denies sleeping with Brandon or his friend Tommy. She doesn’t understand why Brandon started the rumor.
Kelsie tries to comfort her friend, but inside, she is unsure whom she should believe. She knows Alice has slept with boys in the past. Kelsie also has a history with Tommy that no one else knows about. Kelsie admits to panicking when she heard the rumors. She begins to distance herself from Alice so her own popularity will not become tainted by her friend’s reputation.
Josh, who survives the accident that killed Brandon, told the police that they had had a few beers before Brandon’s mother asked them to run an errand to the store. He also admits that Brandon was distracted by his phone. He later tells Brandon’s mother that Alice was texting Brandon lurid messages. He admits to putting the idea of sleeping with Alice in Brandon’s head the day of Elaine’s party. He wonders if he had not brought her up, whether his best friend would still be alive.
Kurt is the high school’s resident genius and next-door-neighbor to Brandon. He has lived with his grandmother since his parents were killed in an accident when he was 5. Kurt has loved Alice for most of that time, but she barely notices he exists.
Although considered a geek with no friends, Brandon always treated him kindly and would sometimes ask him over to drink beer on his roof. During one such talk, Brandon admits that he started the rumor about Alice because he was angry that she would not sleep with him. Kurt wishes he had more leverage within the school so if he told the truth, people would believe him.
Kelsie explains how Alice made her angry over the summer of their sophomore year when she lied about performing oral sex on one of the lifeguards at the town pool. Since that time, Kelsie did not quite trust Alice to tell the truth. As the rumors about Alice continue to swell, Kelsie stops answering her friend’s texts and phone calls.
Kelsie joins Elaine and her crowd. In order to get in good with the popular girls, Kelsie lies and says she saw Alice go into an abortion clinic. She then writes a derogatory lie about Alice in permanent marker on the bathroom wall. Elaine and the others girls follow her example, and soon the stall is covered with lies and innuendos about Alice.
Kurt overhears a math teacher tell Alice that she needs to get her grades up or she will fail his class. When the teacher does not suggest that he can tutor her, Kurt writes a note offering his help and slips it in her locker. She takes him up on his offer. Over the course of several months, their relationship deepens into friendship. Kurt looks for an opportunity to tell Alice that he knows the truth, but it never seems to be the right time. When he finally tells her what he knows, she gets angry and stops speaking to him.
Kelsie tells about her ultraconservative religious mother who forces her to attend church and protest abortion clinics. She then admits how at the end of summer her sophomore year, she had a huge crush on Tommy, the other boy who supposedly slept with Alice. Shortly before he left for college, Tommy asked Kelsie to go for a ride with him. He took her to his house, and she lost her virginity to him. Although she only had sex the one time, Kelsie got pregnant. Her mother took her to a clinic and made her abort the baby. Afterward, her mother would still go protest the clinic but never made Kelsie go again. Kelsie still thinks about the baby and, as the time approaches when she would have given birth, she wonders whether she would have had a boy or a girl.
Josh describes the night after Elaine’s party and how he drove Brandon to his house and put him to sleep on his bedroom floor. He tells about staring at Brandon’s sleeping form and reaching out to touch his hair. Worried that Brandon might wake up, Josh quickly stopped and went to sleep in his bed. He finally admits to lying about Alice sending Brandon texts. In actuality, Brandon had wanted to text Alice to see if they could hook up some time. Jealous, Josh grabbed his phone away. It was his actions that caused Brandon to crash the car.
As the end of the school year approaches, Elaine happens to meet Alice in a beauty salon. After thinking about everything that has happened, Elaine decides that maybe she has been too hard on Alice. After all, Elaine knows Brandon was no saint. She tries to start a conversation with Alice, but Alice barely answers her. Elaine then tells her she can start coming by her lunch table again.
Elaine sees it as an opportunity for Alice to lose her pariah status, but she is not sure Alice will accept her offer of tentative friendship again. Elaine asks about Kurt, and Alice lets her know that Kurt is no longer her friend, if he ever was. Elaine, in a rare moment of clarity, tells Alice that of course Kurt must have been her friend. He was the only person that would talk to her the whole school year.
The last chapter is written from Alice’s perspective. She is walking to Kurt’s house after leaving a note in his locker apologizing for not trusting him. The note said she would come to his house that night, and if he forgave her, he could let her in. If he did not, he should not answer the door. When Alice knocks, Kurt answers. Alice realizes that although she did not know when it happened, she has fallen in love with Kurt. And, for the first time in a year, she knows she has a person she can trust.