Simon & Schuster
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU
Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise and a handful of their other friends are going to have the best Spring Break ever. It’s their last chance to let loose before graduation and the college acceptances or rejections flood in. They head down to the beach paradise of Aruba to stay in a luxury beach side place owned by one of the father’s and get ready to drink up, party hard and generally just have the time of their lives.
But the paradise turns to a nightmare when Elise is found murdered, brutally stabbed to death. The official in charge of the case is refusing to listen to some of the things he’s been told and instead he’s focusing on it not being a break in and random attack, but an inside job. He questions them all relentlessly, focusing particularly on Anna and Tate and the unique dynamics that made up the threesome. Anna and Elise were best friends, almost inseparable. But then Anna started dating Tate and had less time for Elise, who seemed to resent Tate and what the implications of his relationship with Anna were. They all still hung out and had fun but what was simmering under the surface?
Anna soon finds herself arrested and charged, along with her boyfriend. His money buys him bail and a way off the island but Anna, who is not from an excessively wealthy family, is denied bail and trapped in jail there. She is relentlessly questioned over and over again about the same things and no matter how much she tries to make them listen, they are unwavering. They present her as a jealous girl, prone to violent outbursts and maintain that she viciously stabbed her own best friend to death. Isolated from everyone, alone in jail, Anna slowly begins to slide downward as her case seems hopeless. In this country, things don’t go the way she expects them to. The prosecution are gunning for her, twisting everything into something ugly.
But the truth always comes out….will it come out in time for Anna?
I’m a fast reader – always have been. I’m used to having people ask me if I read the whole thing or just skimmed it. One author even gave me an impromptu pop quiz on her book after I told her that I’d finished it (I passed). But I can’t remember the last time I devoured a book so quickly as I did this one. In fact, with this one, I am guilty of skimming towards the end because I was so frantic to see what would happen. I was turning pages quickly, trying to get to the scene where the verdict would be handed down by the judge. The ending floored me. I couldn’t believe it (it had started to dawn on me, horribly, just as I read the one sentence that cemented it). And then I went back and re-read the last 50 or so pages slowly, savouring the story. This is a book where I think many people will be tempted to ‘kill a fairy’ and check the ending. If I can give one piece of advice – don’t. Just don’t. Let the story unfold in its way, even when it makes you angry, or upset. This book elicited a lot of emotions in me whilst I was reading it, predominantly anger and frustration. It’s hard to watch someone treated the way Anna is, a scared teenager in a foreign country, being borderline abused by the man in charge of the murder case. He badgers her, questions her over and over, ignores evidence, leaks photos and information to the press. Just go with all that, and keep reading. It’s so worth it.
Many characters in this story are wealthy, which can be slightly alienating (for example, the luxury house they stay at is owned by one of the boy’s fathers, another is rich enough to post bail and fly out lawyers and a PR team etc) but the way in which this book explores teenage relationships is so interesting. The friendship of Elise and Anna was fascinating – that blend of best friends and worst enemies but one person barely knows it. Elise is the one that pushes Anna to do things, to cut class, to drink, to experiment but in being murdered, she becomes the innocent one and it begins to look like Anna was the one who, after transferring to their exclusive school, “dragged Elise down to her level”. I think many people have been involved in such a friendship – something that can be so amazing but can also drive you to despair. When Anna begins dating Tate, Elise is open about her dislike of him and her disapproval of the relationship. This leads to Anna feeling torn between spending all her time with Elise, like she used to, and spending time with her boyfriend whom she loves. She is often placed in a difficult situation and she seems to just tolerate Elise’s remarks. She might almost feel grateful to Elise, who rescued her from social isolation at her new school and gave her something she craved, something that she’d never really had. Anna was invisible before that, now with Elise, she was something, she was someone. She had friends, she had a group. They had their pairs and groupings even within that group but much of the time they hung out together. Anna’s character is so complex and so intricately well done that you feel what she is feeling – rage at her treatment, grief at what has happened. When her feelings are taken and twisted by the media, it’s horrific. They make her out to be monster, a sociopath, before the case has even delivered a verdict. It makes you question what is true and who has the right to deliver such a judgement, especially while the case/trial is ongoing? You have to decide what is true and what is not, who is presenting the truth and who is twisting it. This is a book which really pushes you to decide who you must place your faith in.
There’s a lot of groundwork laid in this novel for the reader to see and experience before some characters in the book do. It is an unputdownable book for many reasons. It borrows from real life, it borrows from movies and it gives the reader something familiar and a position they can put themselves in. We all hear about people arrested in foreign countries and the hideous things they have to go through. Some are innocent, unable to breach a language barrier. Some aren’t, but they face atrocities that they wouldn’t face had they been arrested in their own country. It’s easy to recognise that sometimes, you can just be the wrong person at the wrong time. That the local authorities might just want to tie up this case neatly and quickly because it’s a place where violence doesn’t happen and they don’t want to look incompetent. It’s happened before and it will happen to people again. This book gives you so many reasons to keep turning the pages, to see what happens to Anna. And the ending is fabulous – excellently constructed and made a good book great.
Book #220 of 2013