Marketed as "if The Breakfast Club was a murder mystery", this follows four teens who were in detention together when a fifth was murdered. The "jock" and star baseball player, the "princess" dating his best friend, the "rebel" with an alcoholic father and a history of drug dealing, and the "nerd" who is set to follow in generations of tradition by attending Yale.
What I liked:
- All the characters were very well developed, and their secrets were all believable.
- Considerations of class and privilege while maintaining empathy toward the privileged AND the struggling. Too often rich kids are painted as mean or bratty or at fault, rather than as having advantages but also compassion for others who didn't get what they did.
- Writing style was very engaging and I got lost in the story quickly
- Detailed subplots
- I didn’t pick the truth until quite late in the book
What I didn't like:
- I’m not sure I found the final resolution (to the question of who did it) believable - at least, not the motivations of this person. But I could let that slide.
SPOILERS FROM HERE!!!
- While it was never labelled domestic violence, the control and aggression Jake exhibited had me genuinely concerned for Addy’s safety at times, and I found him a very realistic villain, especially because he was charming to many others. There was one moment where I really thought he might hit her, and she would rationalise away his behaviour as her fault. For a YA book to touch on some of those issues in teen relationships I think is good, because teenagers often get a free pass for behaviour that we would recognise as abusive in adult men.
- Cooper’s sexuality used for shock value, which I think was worse somehow because of the first person narration - like it was more obvious (because we got to see his internal thoughts) that this was kept from the reader until late in the book just so it could be used as a surprise plot twist.
- Simon is clearly a narcissist with some really messed up motivations for his behaviour, but it’s painted as being part of his depression. As someone who has been depressed and suicidal (especially as a mother having to reiterate that I’d never hurt my kids), I really dislike seeing mental illness portrayed in this way and think it contributes to a stigma about depression.
MC gets on the bad side of her friend Anouk when she hooks up with a boy Anouk likes. So Anouk blocks her on social media, ignores her for weeks, then has a party - and invites everyone except MC. With no one to rant to but strangers on the internet, MC takes to tumblr... and lives to regret it.
What I liked:
- The story was engaging and held my attention throughout
- All the characters were flawed but mostly good people, and MC does have a journey of self-discovery
- Always nice to see positive sibling relationships in fiction
What I didn't like:
- It all felt rather contrived and preachy about how everything online is permanent
- How many subplots does one story need? I get that we’re meant to understand what a crap night it was for MC and so be more forgiving of the way she wrote about her friends, but instead of presenting HER as someone we can easily empathise with, she seemed to just be piled on with so many problems it’s like a shiny beacon saying PITY ME. And while none of those issues in isolation would be unbelievable, I did find it a bit far fetched that they’d all be happening in her life simultaneously.
- Minor issue, but the names. Anouk/Annick has a completely unnecessary name change that implies a quite different racial background, and as a writer reading MC (main character) was irritating.
- I thought it was awful that a teen girl was more or less told she was responsible for the disgusting perverted comments of randoms on the internet that happened in response to her post.
- It felt quite slow, particularly at the start. This may have been because the blurb implied that the story was all about the tumblr post, and that doesn't happen until at least halfway through.
More not so good:
- Another "surprise! this character is gay!" plot twist, although admittedly, when this was addressed, it was in a more positive way, with kind, understanding responses to Harvey and no one outing him against his will.
- How bullying is labelled and understood... The "Bullying. No Way!" website (that many Australian schools use) defines bullying as "ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm". It goes on to specifically point out that "one-off acts of meanness or spite" do not constitute bullying (although they do need to be addressed). MC didn’t continually post about Anouk over weeks or even days. She didn’t send the posts to people they knew to minimise Anouk's power and build her own. She didn’t endorse or encourage people’s cruel reactions. The tumblr post with the videos was a mean thing to do, the wrong thing to do, and MC should absolutely feel remorse and face consequences. I just think it was labelled “bullying” because of what happened after (outside of her control) and not because her actions were persistent, targeted cruelty. To that point, Anouk’s persistent, targeted attempts over several weeks to ostracise MC at school and to isolate her from everyone else they know IS the behaviour of a bully, and that’s never acknowledged.
- The fighting over a boy who turned out to be a jerk thing. It’s a bit overdone and sends a message of “mates before dates” that feels a lot like an adult minimising the intensity of teen relationships and how they can feel. I also think it would be just as realistic for Anouk and MC to be upset with one another over this guy if he WAS a nice guy who was looking for a longer relationship.
- The random thing about the mother tracking the kids’ phones. I really didn’t see the point of that, except to make their mother creepy.
- The whole subplot with the dad and the pregnancy/premature baby. Parents have big age gaps before kids with subsequent partners, pregnancies aren’t always planned, micro prems are born and survive in NICU, those things are all common enough that it doesn’t seem right to criticise. But not telling his own kids about the pregnancy until the baby is born, well over halfway through? It’s probably because of the timing, with the birth happening as MC’s being expelled and her brother is coming out etc, but I found it all a bit of a ridiculous story that felt thrown in without being properly explored.