All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Beautiful Malice – Rebecca James

on September 13, 2010

Wow. This book was way more intense than I expected! 17 year old Katherine Patterson has moved to Sydney and enrolled in a large high school where she can be anonymous after fleeing a tragic past in Melbourne. She keeps to herself, making no friends until the beautiful, impulsive Alice seeks her out and invites her to her 18th birthday. Unwilling to take no for an answer, Alice manipulates Katherine into going. Katherine, although at first reluctant, realises that as she spends time with Alice getting ready, that she has missed having a friend. Missed having someone to hang out with, to talk with. To enjoy life with. Enjoying life is something Katherine hasn’t done in a while.

The book is told in 3 timelines: present day Katherine, the time of her friendship with Alice and the time before she moved to Sydney and the tragic event that changed her life forever. We know early on in the piece that certain events occur, like the tragic murder of Katherine’s younger sister, the child prodigy Rachel. The drama isn’t so much the what things will occur, but the how and the when. It’s surprisingly effective and even though I knew it was coming, when the descriptions arrive, they’re still shocking.

A year go, Katherine took her younger sister Rachel to a party against her better judgement. Rachel, a talented pianist insisted on going to hear the band and eventually, tired of arguing with her, Katherine agreed. Together with Katherine’s friend Carly, they set off for the party drinking vodka and lemonade (and later, just vodka) and then beer at the party. 14yo Rachel isn’t used to alcohol and after a couple of hours spent at the party with Will, her boyfriend, Katherine figures she’d better go and find her drunk younger sister. When she finds Rachel, she’s in a car, barely conscious, with older guys who look like trouble. Against her better judgement, but seeing herself as having no other real options with the drunken Rachel, Katherine accepts a lift home from the boys. Where the boys take the girls is very decidedly not their home. They lock Katherine in a shed while they rape and ultimately, murder, Rachel.

Wracked with guilt that the murder was her fault, and also, that she lived when Rachel died, Katherine goes through the motions in life, and is ripe for the picking of a personality like Alice to manipulate and insert herself into Katherine’s world. Although Katherine does get inklings early on that Alice isn’t quite ‘right’ and shares these feelings with Alice’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Robbie, she is naive, or perhaps desperate enough, to brush these feelings aside and focus on the fun that Alice can be and can bring to her life.

Although there are a few YA cliches (everyone is apparently quite wealthy, money is no object and comes from some indeterminable source, everyone’s parents are mostly conveniently absent, no one seems to require ID in bars/pubs/clubs, everyone is always out until about 2 in the morning, etc) the book is still a pretty riveting read. You know where it’s going most of the time, but you still want to be along for the journey. Rebecca James nailed the beautiful ugliness of Alice’s personality. She is the quintessential toxic friend, albeit with an ulterior motive, but thousands of teenage girls out there will relate, on a lesser level, to the “frenemy” idea. Everyone has one at some stage of their life. That girl that is supposed to be your friend but can also make your life exceedingly miserable at will.

Also done well was Katherine’s grief and guilt and the subtle dangers of attending such a party and accepting a lift home in those circumstances. That could’ve easily been preachy, a ‘see this is what happens when you are bad girls’ kind of thing but it wasn’t. It was exceedingly well done actually and you could see how a slightly drunk 16yo who had left  her mobile phone behind to avoid her parents trying to contact her could see that accepting a lift was the only viable option. She didn’t want to get into trouble, and in trying to avoid getting probably grounded, she got herself into a whole bunch more than that. And at 15, you might not see that just getting grounded for being drunk and getting your 14yo sister drunk isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. I’ve certainly accepted lifts from people I didn’t know when I was a teenager, older guys, guys I’d never met before that day. Luckily for me they always turned out to be mostly decent, and at the most, were probably just stupid tools who thought they were cool. Not over-confident criminals with a chip on their shoulder against the wealthy. But this was a good reminder that you can always be the unlucky one.

Overall a well crafted psychological thriller with a nice, steady state of underlying unease that escalates into tension as Alice gets more and more out of control. I would’ve liked a bit more of a feel for living in Sydney and what that was like for Katherine, versus what living in Melbourne was like. Although Sydney is mentioned, and a couple of other towns, it really could’ve been set anywhere in the world with other town names substituted in for Coffs Harbour and Merimbula. I read the Australian version, so I expected a little bit more feel for the culture and lifestyle. That’s a personal nitpick of mine though and it doesn’t detract from the novel. I’ll definitely be checking out further novels by Rebecca James.

7/10

(Book #65 of my 75 Book Challenge)


One response to “Beautiful Malice – Rebecca James

  1. shelleyraedesigns says:

    I love an Aussie book that doesn’t have that generic feel – I recently read The Build Up by Phillip Gwynne that I thought did a fabulous job of capturing an Australian Culture. If you check it out let me know . I have read Beautiflul Malice and liked it well enough.

    My review is here: http://bookdout.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/the-build-up-by-phillip-gwynne/

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