Official Summary: Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
My Thoughts: I discovered this book because young adult author Leigh Bardugo once posted about it. As she is one of my favorite authors, I decided to follow up on her recommendation. And let me tell you: not only did it not disappoint, it exceeded my expectations. This book is So Good. The character development is excellent, the writing style is beautiful, and the relationships are beautiful. Not to mention, this book is practically a feminist manifesto.
Let’s start with characterization. Each main character finds themselves defined by one aspect of their being: Alex is defined by having a dead sister, Peekay by being the preacher’s kid, Jack by being an athlete, and Branley by being hot. However, the narrative does not rely on stereotypes to bring these characters to life. Alex is a loner and a reader, but she is not treated as an outcast or weirdo. She is never portrayed as a victim, merely someone who has a hard time making friends. Over the course of the novel, we see her slowly branch out and be easily accepted by her peers for who she is. This positive pattern of development is reflected in the other narrators, Peekay and Jack. However, the character I was especially impressed with in terms of development was Branley. Unlike many young adult novels (and teen shows and movies), Branley is not relegated to the role of “popular mean girl.” She is a fleshed out character who even undergoes some development of her own. She was never used as a plot device, but rather as her own character with her own motivations and desires.
Next I want to talk about the relationships. While Jack starts his relationship with Alex by not-like-other-girls-ing her, he soon changes this view instead to appreciating Alex for who she is, regardless of who anyone else is. He never once attempts to change her, frequently asserting that it is he who needs to work to deserve her. However, the relationship that moved me most is Alex and Peekay’s. While not a romantic relationship, they have a deep friendship built on trust and an ability to read and understand each other very well. Peekay helps Alex socialize and come out of her self-imposed shell, while Alex challenges Peekay’s outlook on others. It is by and far a friendship that makes them both better people.
Now let’s discuss the writing style. The narrative is done in first person, alternating points of view between Alex, Peekay, and Jack. Each character has their own distinctive voice that sounds natural for them. The language is very lyrical in nature, making for a unique reading experience. The prose is somehow both incredibly frank and metaphorical enough to make you think.
As I mentioned before, this book makes sure you understand its feminist agenda. Slut-shaming and victim-blaming are openly spoken out against. Any cattiness is soon rectified with apologies and changes of heart. The book validates victims of rape, including being sure to point out men can be raped too. The one gay character, a side character who becomes more prominent in the latter half of the book, is supported (including by the local preacher). The narrative rewards girls who reject unwanted advances from boys and for setting said boys straight. This book advocates not only supporting women, but knowing that they can bite too.
The ending was the only part I took issue with. While in some ways it did seem like the only way that particular arc could go, it did feel sudden. I saw nothing to foreshadow this happening. However, it did lead to a certain level of beauty in the bittersweet aftermath.
I could honestly go on and on about how much I loved this book. I don’t read many contemporaries, but this one blew me away. Out of the nearly one hundred books I’ve read this year, I can easily say this one is top five.
Trigger Warnings: attempted/implied rape/sexual assault, moderately descriptive murders, violence/mutilation, alcohol use/alcoholism, slaughterhouse/stun gun scene, hurt/abandoned animals (found but not shown), drug mentions
My Rating: 5/5
(This review was originally posted on my Tumblr.)