Author: Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Amulet Books
When her best guy friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, sixteen-year-old Cat sets out to discover who in her small town did it. Richly atmospheric, this daring mystery mines the secrets of a tightly knit Southern community and examines the strength of will it takes to go against everyone you know in the name of justice.
Against a backdrop of poverty, clannishness, drugs, and intolerance, Myracle has crafted a harrowing coming-of-age tale couched in a deeply intelligent mystery. Smart, fearless, and compassionate, this is an unforgettable work from a beloved author.
I’ll admit that I was a bit scared to read this book due to the subject matter – a vicious hate crime does not sound like the premise of a fun and happy book – but I’m definitely glad that I did.
There are a lot of Serious and Dark themes in this book, and why yes, I do think they’re both deserving of random Capital Letters. Anyway, there’s the mentioned hate crime from the summary, but there’s also blatant homophobia in regular everyday conversations among some characters, as well as some sexual assault and drug issues. Really, this is just not a happy book, and I feel like I’ll be repeating that a lot throughout this review.
So how was I able to keep going despite wanting to hit some characters over the head for being so small-minded and judgmental? It certainly helped that they were never depicted as being the right ones. Cat, the main character, thinks much differently than they do, yet it always felt genuine. That’s a problem I often have with books depicting slavery – everyone but the protagonist will seem to be all for slavery or think it’s a necessary evil, but the protagonist will be blatantly against it no matter what. Yes, that’s the way we (rightfully so) feel today, but a character growing up during these times shouldn’t automatically be anti-slavery unless it really fits with their personality or some personal experience is related to it. Cat didn’t feel like that, though – it seemed pretty genuine that she would be against these things despite growing up in her small, fairly close-minded town.
Like many other books read in January, there was also some slight religious undertones at points. I think this is the last religious-related book I read in January, so if you’re tired of hearing about them for now, you can relax soon. There are mentions of church and God and such, and some scenes take place in the local church, but it’s never a huge part of the story. It was pretty subtle, and I liked it that way.
The mystery was definitely interesting. Despite the danger it posed to herself, Cat was determined to find out the truth, and I was always rooting for her. I figured it out before she did, but luckily this was one of the cases where I didn’t mind and was just rooting for her o figure it out rather than mentally yelling at her for still be unsure. It also made sense that she wouldn’t figure it out until pretty much all the pieces were spelled out for her because of her personal connection to the person and how it would affect many other things.
That being said, I had some small issues with this book. For one thing, some scenes seemed a bit hazy or unclear, namely the sexual assault scene that is only alluded to for much too long before we actually find out what happened. I don’t know if it’s because Cat is a bit unreliable and the scene was so traumatic that it’s confusing for her to think about, but I was a bit confused while reading it, especially when it came to the part her aunt played. I was also kind of disappointed that there was a romance, for probably the first time. You see, for the majority of the book, there wasn’t a hint of a romance, but then one guy started to seem like a bit of a love interest, and it slowly did develop into a small little romance. It was never a focus of the book, and actually often seemed like an afterthought, but I was kind of excited that I was actually read a strong YA book that didn’t need a romance, so I was a bit disappointed.
Overall, though, this was a very powerful book. Despite my reservations before started it and the difficult subject matter, I’m glad I gave it a chance and it was great to see Lauren Myracle writing deep, dramatic books along with her (also enjoyable) funnier and lighter books.