Saturday, September 28, 2013


by Jennifer duBois
Published by Random House
384 pages
Genre: fiction, mystery
Thanks to NetGalley and edelweiss for the preview
4.5 / 5

Earlier this year, I read and loved (LOVED, I tell you) Dangerous Girls, which was sort of a mashup between the Amanda Knox and Natalee Holloway stories. Now comes Cartwheel, which so clearly takes inspiration from Amanda Knox's murder trial that the author wrote a disclaimer at the start of the novel.

After five weeks studying abroad in Argentina, Lily Hayes is quite certain that she and roommate Katy Kellers will never be besties. She's also certain that her host family hates her. What she isn't so sure about is how she feels about mysterious neighbor Sebastien Le Comte, whom she's dating and kind of likes, but whose eccentricities are more than she cares to withstand.

Another thing she knows is that she did not murder Katy Kellers.

Lily's family is also certain that she is not the murderer, as is Sebastien. The prosecutor, however, is very, very certain that she did.

Told from the perspectives of Lily, her professor father Andrew, her younger sister, Sebastien, and the prosecutor, Jennifer duBois expertly crafts a story that keeps us wondering if Lily might just be the killer. Her behavior is certainly Knoxian; she does a cartwheel shortly after discovering Katy's body, and she and Sebastien are seen on security footage purchasing condoms. Is that how a bereaved roommate would act? Lily herself is almost preternaturally unlikable. She is selfish, self-centered, flaky, and not nearly as intelligent as she thinks she is. She doesn't like Katy because the girl has perfect teeth and is "boring." She pursues Sebastien, albeit not terribly aggressively, but doesn't really care for him. But she is lost and fragile, and you find yourself reluctantly - VERY reluctantly - hoping she is innocent.

The likability factor of the characters in this book is fairly dim. Andrew wants to believe in his daughter, yet he doesn't seem to know how to parent her. He spares no times for younger daughter Anna and doesn't appear terribly guilty over it, and his relationship with his ex-wife is as seamless as he can make it. Anna seeks solace in running, the metaphor for which is plain. She wants to escape her family and her jailbird older sister, about whom her feelings are ambivalent at best. Anna would like to see Lily freed, even if she believes Lily has it in her to kill someone. Prosecutor Eduardo thinks himself an upright, ethical man, yet he relies too heavily on his instincts and too lightly on facts. He wants Lily found guilty, and when another character does not believe her to be so, Eduardo does not care. He thinks Lily did it, so it must be true.

Then there is Sebastien. I think we're supposed to pity him, an immensely wealthy orphan of two international assassins. (For reals.) But he's so weird and odd that we can't empathize with him. He rarely leaves his home, and when he develops feelings for one of the American students next door to him, we feel tremendous discomfort at watching him try to woo her. He does not think Lily is a murderer, and in his own awkward way he tries to help her. But his quirks are too extreme.

The thing is, this book is good. I hated having to put it down, and even if I didn't like the characters, I didn't want to stop reading about them. The ending comes in a rush, and that, in fact, is the only complaint I have. I couldn't figure out why duBois suddenly races through the conclusion after having unfolded her story with steady, sold pacing.

Read it. It's good storytelling.

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