CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2016
New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2016.
316 pp., hardcover, $24.99.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Charlotte Duggan.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“You sure you want to know all of this? Anna asked.
I nodded, and Anna turned the giant box monitor to face me. The headline ripped the air out of my lungs.
CHEERLEADER ABROAD KILLED IN JEALOUS RAGE!
I wheeled my chair closer to the table. I skimmed the article, each word detonating like a bomb, shattering my reality. I kept trying to rearrange the sentences to say something else, but it was clear.
People thought I’d killed Simone on purpose.
With Malice, from Vancouver author Eileen Cook, is a generally exciting hybrid thriller/teen problem novel. Cook manages to cover a lot of classic young-adult lit territory in this novel while still keeping the story fresh and engaging.
The story is told from the point of view of 18-year-old Jill who, waking up in hospital weeks after a car accident that killed her best friend, discovers she’s being investigated as a potential murder suspect. But Jill has suffered a brain injury and can’t remember anything. While Jill struggles to recover from her physical injuries, her memory of the accident and the events leading up to the accident remain elusive.
Jill’s trauma is complicated by the media attention her story has received. Her lawyer says it’s because the story has “legs... Two pretty girls, an exotic foreign location, mystery as to why I did it, and the potential for revenge and jealousy to be the cause.” The optics of a wealthy family airlifting their daughter home to allegedly shield her from prosecution by a foreign government are irresistible to the scandal addicted media. As Jill puts it: “... as if I was this crazy loser who finally snapped after years of having a prettier, smarter, sexier best friend and decided to take us both out. Murder suicide.”
Cook balances Jill’s first person narrative with an array of other kinds of texts, the types of documents the police and prosecution would be gathering as evidence. We read everything from parts of the Let’s Travel Guidebook and excerpts from police interviews with fellow students in the Adventures Abroad Program, to the television transcript for Crime Watch with Nina Grimes. Each of these is printed in its own unique font, providing the reader with the sensation of genuinely sorting through the evidence to determine if Jill purposefully drove the car off the road to kill Simone. While some of these documents are overly long and do slow down the momentum, mostly they work to heighten the tension.
Teen readers will especially appreciate the social media excerpts. Cook has done a bang-up job of capturing the zeitgeist of current teen culture by incorporating the online reaction of Jill and Simone’s friends into the storyline. This is where this demographic lives. As Jill’s neuropsychologist Dr. Weeks puts it: “People often lose their inhibitions online. They say and do things they would never do face-to-face.” This is an understatement. An online blog, Justice for Simone, pours gasoline on the drama and inflames media interest.
Jill is not alone in her struggle to reconstruct what really happened that night on the road in Italy. Her rehab hospital roommate Anna is sharp, direct and worldly. Anna is from the other side of the tracks, and Jill observes that she “looked like a person who could be stabbed and then wrap the wound in duct tape and go out dancing....” Anna does not allow Jill to slip into self-pity, and she forces Jill to consider all possible angles of the mystery, even the less savoury ones. Anna’s computer hacking skills provide one of the many dramatic twists in this dynamic plot.
In characteristic YA form, Cook presents Jill’s parents as adding more problems than help, at least from Jill’s perspective. Both are still stinging from a bitter divorce; there’s a new wife on the scene, and clearly Jill’s mom is weakened.
Rounding out Jill’s support team is an eye-on-the-prize young lawyer named Evan.
Teen readers will be engaged to the very last page as Cook maintains momentum with an exciting, surprising, reveal-all ending.
Within With Malice, Cook offers a peek behind the curtain of friendship and the lengths we will go to be accepted. Self-understanding has come at a terrible price for Jill. And Cook leaves it to the reader to decide if the cost has been worth it.
Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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