Not many books can literally keep me up all night and justify a subsequent day of walking around like a zombie because my body only had a few hours of sleep, but this is not a book that you’ll easily put down or be able to stop thinking about long after you’ve read it. It will get under your skin, slowly, stealthily, completely. You’ll crawl away shaken, profoundly affected, and you might even feel the urge to hide in a corner needing to process what you’ve just read. It’s a sensational piece of writing but it is also a book that should be read with great caution, fully aware that there are scenes in it that could be difficult to stomach for some.
Brooke is a girl in her last year of high school and her story starts immediately after the untimely loss of her best friend, Beth. We meet Brooke in a moment of utter heartbreak and sadness, her loss being even harder to bear because of the unsurmountable guilt weighing on her. Our heroine is a girl who has lived the typical life of a teenager –outspoken, sassy, confident, popular among her peers – but a selfish act of betrayal and disregard for her friend’s feelings made her lose the friendship she valued the most in life. Unable to deal with her friend’s passing and her own feelings of guilt, Brooke decides to focus on the circumstances surrounding Beth’s death and to punish those responsible for her friend’s pain. She effectively replaces her sorrow with anger and determination, hoping to achieve atonement for her own actions through revenge against those who wronged Beth.
“There’s anger, and then there’s righteous anger. I felt the righteous anger, and I knew I had to act on it. I would purify my heart by becoming impure.”
A twisted plan, a dangerous and extreme plot puts Brooke on a course that is meant to lead her to the very event that made her friend take her young life. Brooke is determined and willing to do anything to achieve justice for her friend, including forfeiting her own safety. Convinced that revenge would provide the only escape from her own nightmares, she decides to re-live Beth’s. But an unexpected encounter with a boy that she immediately connects with slowly throws her off course, making her question her resolve and the rationality of her plan altogether. The more she gets to know Ryan and the deeper she falls for him, the more uncertain she becomes about revenge providing her with absolution. She becomes torn between loyalty to her friend and her growing feelings for Ryan, between her remorse eating her up inside and a newly found hope that Ryan’s love could be the very thing to pull her out of her nightmare.
“My biggest fear lay in the possibility that I would never be able to let go of my guilt, that it would twist and turn me into something wretched… I couldn’t deny how I felt when I was around Ryan. He was a savior to me. When I was with him, all of the hurt and guilt vanished. I thought he had the ability to put my brokenness back together… I wanted to spend my every waking moment with him because when I was with him, I felt safe.”
As Brooke ‘walks in Beth’s shoes’, she uncovers much more than she ever bargained for, her discoveries giving her a deeper insight into the act of brutality that her friend had lived through, struggled with and ultimately succumbed to. That insight brings her closer to Beth but it also renews her determination to bring the culprits to justice. But all actions have consequences, even the most selfless ones, and soon Brooke finds herself sinking much deeper than she ever wished to.
“I’m not talking about getting your feelings hurt because someone or something didn’t live up to your expectations. I’m talking about the kind of indignity that changes you as a person, makes you withdraw, hide from the world because suddenly it’s turned into something frightening—full of dark corners and monsters.”
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this book, there were, however, a few elements of the storyline that prevented me from giving it a standing ovation. I don’t normally engage in questioning specific plot components of a book as I believe that it is every author’s prerogative to make the story what they believe it should be. Having said that, this is no ordinary story. This is a story that tackles a very sensitive theme, one that is not utilised in this book for its shock value but rather for its relevance and common occurrence in everyday life. Personally, the ending left me dissatisfied, confused as to why certain very emotional scenes needed to be present, while others that would have undoubtedly made the ending more effective were omitted. This story deserved a grand finale, one to remember for a very long time and one to give us the closure we so desperately needed. We get a happy ending but to me it felt flat, somewhat romanticised, and poorly matched to the intensity of the rest of the book. I felt like I was already standing, breathless and moved, ready to clap my heart out, and then the ending made me fall back into my chair, huffing and puffing, uncertain why it was executed as it was.
But regardless of these very subjective objections on my part, I truly believe that a very important story was told in this book, a story that is current, authentic, necessarily gruesome at times and never embellished to make it more palatable. It builds up slowly by giving the reader one puzzle piece at a time, and by the time we have the complete picture, we are so deeply invested in the storyline and the characters in it that walking away from them is not an option. I truly enjoyed the pace and the emotional build-up, some elements of the plotline being slightly predictable, others catching me by total surprise, but the feeling of uneasiness from never knowing where the story would take us made this a very enjoyable and exhilarating reading experience. There are a couple of scenes that had me tensing up and hardly breathing through them, effectively drawing out every extreme emotion from the reader needed for that scene to strike the necessary chord. I would recommend this book to anyone not looking for a fairy-tale, but rather wanting a story that is as real as it is unique.
“You’re going to be my trouble this year, aren’t you?”
Hell yeah I was.