All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Cartwheel – Jennifer DuBois

on November 12, 2013

Jennifer DuBois
Scribe Publishing
2013, 363p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Lily Hayes is an American girl who traveled to Buenos Aires for a semester abroad. She and another American girl Katy stay with a family there, although the two girls do not become firm friends. Katy is more studious, attending her classes and spending her time at home highlighting her economics textbooks whereas Lily gets herself a job in a local bar and even has a casual relationship with a young man next door.

Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered, stabbed to death. Lily makes the gruesome discovery and although she attempts CPR, it is too late. She then becomes the prime suspect due to the fact that their host parents were away, she had access to the house and the murder weapon and the investigation has dug up Lily’s damning emails, many of which state how much of a bore Katy was. There’s also Katy’s correspondence, which suggests she had recently started a clandestine relationship, something she had to keep secret from Lily. There’s also the fact that Lily’s reaction caused attention after the death- she was not noticably grief stricken. In fact she kissed and cuddled her boyfriend, shopped for condoms with him and on one occasion during a break from questioning by the police, turned a cartwheel in the interview room.

All of these things lead to Lily’s arrest for the crime. Her family fly in to support her and meet with her legal counsel as they attempt to establish a clear defense for why she isn’t guilty. It is not an easy thing to accomplish given the hazy timelines and memories of those involved. Lily’s family fear that she’ll be lost to a lifetime in jail in a place that means they will rarely ever get to see her again.

Cartwheel takes some obvious inspiration from the Amanda Knox case. Knox was an American who was convicted of the murder of her room mate in Italy. She served four years of the sentence before being acquitted (and the acquittal has now been overturned, it’s still ongoing) and the case has made headlines around the world. Although the basic idea of this story is the same – an American woman accused of killing her room mate in a foreign country they are both in on exchange – the story differs and DuBois has made it her own.

The crux of Lily’s defense relies on the fact that she supposedly spent the night with her quasi-boyfriend, the exotically named Sebastien LeCompte, a lonely young man who lived in the house next door to Lily and Katy’s host family. The host parents were away attending a family event and Lily took the opportunity to sleep elsewhere. She had previously had several conversations with her host mother about sneaking out at night or returning to the house very late and it seemed that there was a conflict of how each of them thought Lily should behave. Given Lily was an adult, it could be argued that she should be free to come and go as she pleases and not resort to having to sneak out. The opposite is that she is a guest in someone else’s home and it would be courteous to abide by their preferences.

Lily is portrayed often throughout the book as typically middle class, often selfish and inconsiderate as well as ignorant to the local customs. As the eldest child in a way (her parents had a child before her who died at the age of 2) Lily was a miracle and alternately cossetted and given long reins of freedom. At times it’s difficult for the reader to relate to Lily, or to like her but that doesn’t meant that it’s hard to sympathise with her, especially during the scenes where her parents go to visit her in jail. When they first see her they are stunned at the change in her, how much she has diminished, shrunk inside herself by the ordeal of being arrested and placed in a foreign jail. It’s quite clear the conditions she is being forced to endure are atrocious and yet surprisingly, she doesn’t complain. In fact Lily is at her most likable when she’s in the jail, my contempt for her really only being limited to the flashbacks that show her life in Buenos Aires prior to the murder. I however, can’t place much faith in the reliance on emails to construct a case: people say a lot of things in casual communication, including derogatory things about other people. It rarely is a reflection of malice, evil intent or anything other than just blowing off steam.

DuBois seeks to give the story (and Lily) multiple layers, and I have to admit, I spent a huge part of the book thinking her firmly innocent and being rather frustrated at the singlemindedness of the Eduardo, the one who looks at the evidence and decides whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed. His view of the case seemed to be coloured by his volatile and often strange relationship with his volatile and often strange ex-wife. I’m not entirely sure whether or not this addition to the story was necessary because I think there was plenty for the author to go on to build an ambiguous story. However the further into the story I got, the more I began to doubt myself and my original opinions and then I swung back again. The close of the book does leave the real answer up in the air, the reader is to draw their own conclusions, something that isn’t very easy. I generally prefer a more definite resolution but I think in terms of this story, it worked. After all the reader wasn’t there, her mother, father and sister weren’t there. No one can really know for sure what happened, we can only assume.


Book #290 of 2013


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