Here’s another chilling end-of-summer read: a trip to Italy, friends who betray each other, a deadly car accident, and so much more fill the pages of Eileen Cook’s newest YA novel, With Malice. The truth has never seemed so important, or so flexible, as it appears in this book. If you love thrillers that leave you uncertain about who to trust, don’t miss this story.
About the book: Eighteen year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital badly battered and confused, with no memory of the past six weeks. She quickly learns that the educational trip to Italy she’d been looking forward to for months has already come and gone, that she was involved in a highly-publicized car accident abroad, and that her best friend of more than 10 years is dead. As Jill settles in to a rehab facility and deals with her parents and lawyers making important decisions to deal with the possibility of murder charges from the Italian police, she struggles to remember what happened on the trip and whether it’s as bad as she thinks–was the car accident actually part of a murder scheme? Jill is forced to confront the problematic nature of truth over and over–whose is the right version, whether her memories can be relied upon at all, and whether the truth even matters when she’s faced with such ill public opinion and the police are out for blood.
“It doesn’t matter what’s true–what matters is what people believe.”
The structure of this book adds to the reader’s sense of uncertainty. Between chapters of Jill’s confused perspective, the reader is provided with testimony from friends and relatives of the girls involved in the trouble in Italy, including parts of police interviews, updates on news and social media sites, text messages and notes that are being considered as character evidence, etc. Seeing so many facets of the story makes it clear that everyone sees something different. It can be difficult to determine which of the conflicting pieces are most accurate.
“Maybe I didn’t want to believe what I might be capable of doing.”
Best aspect: Jill’s trip to Italy was an exciting one–the mystery of Jill’s forgotten past is the most engaging aspect of this novel. The chapters of testimony were for me the most interesting pieces of the story, and I was constantly wondering what had happened leading up to the car crash. The interviews and such that are provided in these in-between chapters are a fun alternative medium to traditional narration that give a great level of characterization to all of the people involved in Jill’s story.
Worst aspect: Jill’s present circumstances are less exciting than her past. While Jill is relatively safe in the rehab facility, the biggest tension points of the plot are her slow progress in remembering what happened in Italy, and her lawyer’s attempts to suppress her from saying anything that can be used against her in a potential court case. Otherwise, not much is going on for Jill at rehab, and I was a little disappointed that Cook didn’t raise the stakes for this part of the plot. There’s the threat of potential jail time constantly hanging over her head, but otherwise Jill has it pretty easy at rehab. She’s stressed and healing and worried about the kind of person she is, but she doesn’t really do much in the present. I think that if I had seen a little more excitement after the crash than the rehab facility had to offer, that would’ve tipped me from liking this book to loving it. There was so much tension and interest in the Italy trip, but I wished that level of excitement could’ve been maintained after Jill had woken up in the hospital, as well.
Another consideration: Jill is not necessarily a likable character. Sometimes it can make a book harder to read if you can’t quite understand or connect with the main character, but I find I rather enjoy that technique. I liked being uncertain about Jill, and I think having some doubts about her character suit the story well. Characters seem more believable when they’re flawed and capable of doing bad things.
“Who we are is what comes out when shit goes bad. You can’t tell anything about a person when things are great. If you want to really know someone, be there when everything goes to hell.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Eileen Cook was not on my radar before I came across this book recently in a bookstore, but she does have quite a few other YA books published. I’m not in a hurry to read all the rest of them, but I did like With Malice enough that I’ll keep an eye out for more new Cook novels. With Malice didn’t quite have the fast-paced wow factor that I expected after reading its synopsis, but I did particularly enjoy how multi-faceted this story made its characters and truths seem. I love books that don’t wrap up too neatly at the end, and this is definitely the sort of story that will leave readers thinking–not just about the characters confined to the novel’s pages, but about big real-life concepts including memory, truth, and friendship. It’s a great mix, and while With Malice didn’t quite make it onto my list of favorites, I did enjoy it and I see real potential here that leaves me excited for future novels by this author.
- Ruth Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood also features a female character who was involved in a car “accident” and wakes up in the hospital trying to piece together what happened and whether she is still in danger. This one’s a non-stop thriller, more NA than YA, but an absolute fantastic read if you like With Malice. Check out my review of Ware’s book here.
- If you want to stick to YA and love a good book that explores the gravity of truth, don’t miss e. lockhart’s We Were Liars, which features a main character much like Jill, forced to face a close tragedy of the past that she doesn’t quite remember, with far-reaching consequences. Check out my review of lockhart’s book here.
Coming up next: last month I read Ruth Ware’s first novel, and I was so impressed that I rushed out to buy her new book, The Woman in Cabin 10. This new story is thrilling in a whole new way–Laura Blacklock, an aspiring journalist, finds herself trapped on a boat with a possible murderer, and no one else on board seems to care or even acknowledge that the murdered woman exists. Watch for my next post to find out all about the craziness of Ware’s latest psychological masterpiece.
The Literary Elephant