Welcome to the More Diverse Universe blog event! Check out Aarti's site for all the great posts from other participating bloggers!
No, wait, the Diversiverse isn't the creeping terror; it's Stephanie Kuehn's Complicit that is a creepfest of a book, in the best possible way.
Jamie's a bit of a nervous guy, and you can't blame him, because he's got problems. The biggest one is that his older sister's just gotten out of jail, and he doesn't know what she's going to do. Cate was put away for burning a barn to the ground, an accident that killed several horses and severely injured a girl. Jamie's nervous about what Cate's going to do.
And when Jamie gets nervous, his body betrays him. His hands go numb, or he passes out, or loses time. His memories are spotty; he can't remember anything before he was six, and almost nothing before he and his sister were adopted by their wealthy parents a few years later. He has just the vaguest, distant images of his birth mother.
So when Jamie's phone starts ringing, and Cate starts calling, telling him that there are things he needs to know and to understand, he's not sure what to make of it. We follow him as he gets closer to a girl, Jenny, at school, as he searches his past for understanding of Cate and of things he can't remember, and as he navigates school and therapy and his parents.
The sense of suffused dread that's going on here is insane. You can tell from the very beginning that there is something going on, a lot more than what Jamie is telling you. Jamie is the perfect unreliable narrator, because he is so straightforward. Jamie's own confusion is enough of an indication of what is going on. But the book still had me guessing at what the reveal would be, and I speculated my way through every possible permutation of any given character being actually dead, actually alive, or actually imaginary.
Really, I figured out the reveal well before the ending, but it wasn't one of those realizations where you then get frustrated that the book is lagging behind your understanding. Instead, it's about watching the realizations unfold, and wondering where on earth this roller coaster is going to take you.
In addition to the aforementioned roller coaster, there is a lot of really great, meaty stuff going on here. There are issues of class throughout this book that are dealt with in so many ways; Jamie and Cate are unique in their wealthy community, because they come from a poor, dangerous place, but now have all the privileges of their new family's status. But they don't quite fit in, and they get trouble with a lot of people for that, in a way that makes you wonder where the loop of these troubled kids from the wrong side of the tracks being problem children started out.
In so many ways, I felt like this was Cate's story, even though she's only in the book for a few minutes total. Her presence looms large in Jamie's mind--really, all of his history, his memories (bot present and missing), and even the memories of others (their adoptive parents had two children who died years before) shape his life. But Cate is the holder of the memories; this entire book is the process of Jamie figuring out what Cate knows--what she lived through and remembers, he is uncovering bit by bit. And the more you learn about her, and the complex mess of her life and the actions she's had to take, the more you're kind of knocked over by her.
I love a book where you can look at any character and imagine how the story would look from their point of view--not just how the plot would unfold, but what angles and tangles would be added with their perspective. This was a brilliant example of that kind of book. And very, very creepy.