The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done is a book of layers. Annie, Jake, and Mason are closer than best friends, and have been since they first met when they were very young. These are some extremely complex friendships.
From early on, it’s clear that Mason feels the need to be loved “the most” by both Annie and Jake. He is the most daring of the three, and his dares and threats direct the action of the group more often than not.
A game, of sorts, he plays with Annie starts with a question: “What’s the worst thing you’ve done today?” It’s playful with an undertone of danger, which describes Mason’s personality rather accurately.
The reader learns little bits about the secrets that Jake and Mason are keeping from Annie about something that happened between them when they were young, and away at camp. Annie and Jake don’t tell Mason about the times the two of them got together and talked about Mason. Mason doesn’t tell Annie about his feelings for Jake.
Annie doesn’t tell Mason about the times she sided with him because she knew Jake could withstand being on the outside while Mason was too fragile to deal with that. Most of these things are hinted at before finally being revealed to the reader, often in the forms of the artwork Annie creates. Annie creates collages. Even her artwork has layers upon layers.
Mason and Annie grow up and get married. After the reception, Annie’s parents drive home and are struck and killed in an automobile accident. Annie’s mother was very pregnant at the time, and the baby survives.
The three friends decide to raise the baby, Annie’s sister, Opal, as their own. It’s an odd sort of family, especially for Opal. Opal has two dads, who are not “partners” but are co-raising her along with Annie, who is both her mom and her sister at the same time.
Layers upon layers of family. Opal’s birthday is not only her birthday, it’s also the anniversary of Mason and Annie’s wedding, and the anniversary of Annie’s and Opal’s parent’s deaths. Nothing is simple.
For a while, this unorthodox form of family works pretty well for all of them. Eventually, the precarious balance shifts. This book starts with Annie driving in her car, alone, late at night, trying to deal with Mason’s recent suicide.
The very next chapter comes from Mason’s diary, and is done in a completely different type face. Why he did it is revealed as the reader goes through all the layers surrounding his choice. You get chapters from Annie’s point of view, Mason’s (through his diary) Jake’s, and even Opal’s (once she becomes big enough) as well as Annie’s (and therefore, also Opal’s) aunt, who is not their mother’s sister.
Here is one complicated story. It’s tragic, and complex. It shows many examples of the grieving process before coming around to showing how the different characters manage to cope with it all and move on, each in their own way.
Right before Mason’s suicide, he managed to goad Annie and Jake into crossing a line that they would not have otherwise decided to cross. No one is happy about the results, least of all Mason himself.
Hegi manages to take a story that is filled with scandalous concepts, any one of which would be handled in a more “tabloid” way in other books, and make each into something both deeper and more detailed than what appears on the surface. She does an amazing job of this, and her book is a masterful piece of writing. Those readers who enjoy books that make you feel sad will not be able to put this book down.