by Abigail Haas
Published by Simon Pulse
Genre: mystery, New Adult, literature
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
5 / 5
Faithful readers, you need to give me a moment or two to collect myself, because this book – THIS BOOK.
I don’t know how to discuss it without giving away things, so if you want to go in completely clean and know nothing, then quit reading now, go buy a copy, and come back. Seriously. I want everyone who reads this book – and that better be ALL OF YOU – to come back and discuss it in the Comments Section. I haven’t wanted to talk about a book this much since Gone Girl.
I will warn you before I get to anything that is seriously spoiler-ish. Otherwise, there may be a few mild spoilers contained herein.
Do you find yourself getting caught up in televised court cases, particularly the armchair analysts who proclaim they can read body language of the jurors (or even the defendant) and whose opinions influence ours? Even dangerously so? And what about those defendants? What do we make of them? How can we tell if they’re truly innocent or guilty? Or could it be that they fall in that nebulous area of “not guilty”?
Abigail Haas tells the story Anna Chevalier and a group of fellow high school seniors, students at a hoity-toity Boston private school, who head to Aruba for spring break. It’s their last vacation together before college, and the kids just want to cut loose and have some fun. As we get to know them, though, we discover that they tend to be the cutting loose and having fun sort of crowd, so Aruba seems almost superfluous.
While there, Elise, Anna’s best – and I mean BEST – friend gets murdered, and the police start looking at Anna and her friends. They ultimately charge Anna and her boyfriend Tate, and Anna begins to fight for her freedom. She quickly realizes that everyone, including, apparently, Tate, thinks she’s guilty of murdering her bestie. But Anna resolutely professes her innocence. She is determined to be found innocent, even in the face of an increasingly large mountain of evidence against her.
When we read books that are narrated by a character, we have to ask ourselves if the narrator is reliable or not. Agatha Christie addressed this in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, when we found out that our narrator withheld important information from us. It is crucial that we believe Anna. She needs us to believe in her innocence. If she can’t convince us, how can she convince the judge? But even though she is the narrator, Anna’s is not the only perspective we have. We also get transcripts of news shows that analyze everything about Anna, from her in-court demeanor to how she acted after learning of Elise’s murder, to even how she appears when walking in the prison yard. But can we take them seriously? I mean, we all saw those photos of Amanda Knox canoodling with her boyfriend after the two supposedly committed murder. Amanda says they were comforting each other during a stressful time. The TV shows said it was proof of callousness. We have to believe Anna. We simply must.
The problem is that Anna is not all that likable. Really, no one is in this book, aside from Anna’s father and legal team. Neither Anna nor any of her friends are what you’d call “good people.” They are spoiled, self-involved, over entitled teenagers who are selfish to a fault. This actually helps us believe Anna, though, because she knowingly reveals herself, including her considerable arsenal of negative characteristics. She is, in a word, a bitch. A very big one. Her friendship with Elise is all consuming to her; Elise sort of rescues Anna, and Anna’s gratitude is complete. But it’s also reciprocated. Elise is as obsessed with Anna as Anna is with her. When Anna begins dating Tate, it naturally creates friction. I thought this was exceptionally well done by Abigail Haas, who nails the teen angst and jealousy that abound when one friend falls in love and the other does not.
Anna unfolds her story with flashbacks, including the first day she meets Elise. We see the progression of their friendship, as we also see the progression of Anna’s trial. She is stunned that people believe she murdered a girl whose friendship was her life. We feel for her when she is betrayed, we become increasingly anxious as the trial progresses, desperate for Anna to be found innocent.
The thing is, there are no innocent people here. Even Anna seems to recognize that. She acknowledges that everyone played a part in Elise’s death, even if they didn’t kill her. As she tells her story, Anna – perhaps unwittingly – puts her and her friends’ lifestyle and mores under inspection. Weren’t they asking for trouble, to some extent? As Anna observes about another character, all that perfection has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? What happens when it becomes too much, when the effort to keep everything the way you want it proves futile?
Do you find out whodunit? Yes, you do. Will you be surprised? Let me just say that there are a few plot twists, but if you read carefully, one of them won’t shock you, but another one (or two) could. As for the identity of the murderer, clues are dropped. But I think you will be shocked at who it is.
And that’s when I want you to come back and discuss. Please tell me. Did you see? Did you know? And do you think that there was a certain relationship there?
I really liked this one, kids. I really, really did. It isn’t perfect – there are a couple of gaps and some consistency issues – but it will grip you by the throat and not let up until you turn the last page.