October 23, 2014

Thursday Review: COMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn

This cover is really awesome.
Summary: Protagonists whose past is hidden--even, sometimes, from themselves. It's something author Stephanie Kuehn does well, if you've read her first book, Charm & Strange. Complicit is another suspenseful read, in which protagonist Jamie Henry's life is turned upside down (again) when he finds out his sister Cate is getting out of juvie. Cate is...well, everyone knows she's a psycho, and everyone knows Jamie as the psycho's sister, so nothing good can come of this. After all, before she was put away, she set fire to a barn and almost killed someone.

It's two years later, and now Jamie's seventeen, with his life more or less in a routine. His home life with his adoptive parents is okay, but not great. He's seeing a therapist, but he still doesn't remember a lot about the traumas in his past. He's avoided by most people at school, but the new girl seems to like him. He struggles with a mysterious neurological thing--a cataplexy--that seems to be stress-induced: his hands go completely numb and paralyzed, but it doesn't happen that often. Until, of course, his sister comes back into the picture, prompting not only the return of Jamie's physical symptoms but a whole host of questions and unpleasant flashbacks about their traumatic childhood. But she's the only one who really knows what happened the night of the fire, and in their past. So Jamie will have to confront the truth--and his sister--if he wants closure.

Peaks: The suspense created by the structure of this story--movement between the past, before the fire, and the present--is very effective, and makes this a real page-turner. The author does an amazing job treading the balance between what the reader knows (or suspects) and what the protagonist knows (or suspects). One of my pet peeves in books where the protagonist unconsciously knows more than s/he consciously knows is when it's obvious to the reader, and therefore it feels like I'm being manipulated as I read, which boots me out of the story faster than you can say "obtrusive storytelling."

In Complicit, though, the mystery is heightened by the fact that Jamie knows there are things he doesn't know. He's trying to figure them out, and we know trauma has made him not remember. I didn't feel deliberately misled because I felt very close to the character as he fumbles his way toward the truth, frightening as it is. He's relatable, and the stark contrast with his troubled sister, Cate, elicits even more sympathy.

Valleys: This was a really good book. I don't have any major criticisms--I was impressed by how the author handled the slow reveal of information and clues, so that the reader (well, this reader) only begins to suspect what truly happened as we near the end of the story. And I don't think it's really a negative criticism to say that a book's ending made me exclaim "WHY!! Why did you do this to me?" (I shan't elaborate, for fear of spoilers, but that's what happened.)

Conclusion: Fans of mystery and suspense, as well as dramatic family stories, will really enjoy this one, I think. If you liked her first book, Charm & Strange; if you liked E. Lockhart's latest; if you like Swati Avasthi and Laurie Halse Anderson (particularly her latest, The Impossible Knife of Memory, which I think I still need to review), I recommend Complicit.

I purchased my copy of this book from an independent bookstore at KidLitCon. You can find COMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!


tanita✿davis said...

HA! I wanted to know your reaction to the conclusion. I think my review is just as vague, but I note that the "kernel of hope" so often referred to in our MFA courses, is kind of missing.

I don't think I miss it.
It would have felt false.

I am just in AWE of this author.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Oh, dang it, I forgot you reviewed this one. I like linking to yours when we review the same one. I think yours might actually be in my TBR pile of reviews and blog posts...which is now enormous. :)

I feel like there are SO many ways to interpret the idea of "kernel of hope," but in this case, it was more like a kernel buried in a kernel...I guess I consider acknowledgment/airing of the truth to be sufficient to constitute some hope, or at least forward movement rather than stagnation and looking backwards.

I wonder if Jennifer would like this one...?

tanita✿davis said...

AS SOON AS I read CHARM & STRANGE I told her there was a new writer she just HAD to read. I think she'll LOVE COMPLICIT... as soon as she works her way through her TBR...