In this twisty thriller by debut author Jennifer Donaldson, two teen’s lives are more entwined than you could ever imagine.
Quiet, shy Eylse can’t believe it when she’s cast as Juliet in her school play. She’s not sure if she’s up to task, but when someone at rehearsals catches her eye, she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight even though she absolutely shouldn’t be with them.
Meanwhile, Gabe is contemplating breaking up with his headstrong, popular girlfriend Sasha, but Sasha thinks otherwise. And when rumors begin to circulate around school, Gabe knows she has the power to change his life forever.
Both Gabe and Elyse suffer from falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. One bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences, and not everyone will survive.
I feel a little conflicted over this even though this should be a relatively straightforward review.
There’s something about this book that made me not like it as much as I could have, and it’s not something concrete like writing style or a specific plot element. It’s more like I have this uncomfortable feeling when I think about this, if that makes any sense.
I think this lies within Elyse and her relationship with her teacher, but parts with Sasha also make me uncomfortable. This is all my own opinion, but I feel like I got the wrong vibes with regards to the treatment & portrayal of women in this book.
The thing between Elyse and her teacher isn’t technically pedophilia because of how she’s not prepubescent, but it was very manipulative and is something that isn’t right as he’s around twice her age. Obviously this shouldn’t be condoned and it’s talked about at the end of the book by some of the characters, but it also felt like Donaldson was using this manipulative relationship as a plot device and I didn’t like this.
Of course you can write about large age gap manipulative relationships as a plot, but this didn’t feel like a plot, but rather a plot device. It’s part of the bigger picture and although telling this story is almost half the book’s content, it’s also something that leads to the big #SHOOK moment.
I wished that there was more commentary on why this is something that isn’t right besides the fact that the guy turns into a bad person. Even if he stayed nice to her, it’s not something that’s really connect as he is taking advantage of a minor. (If she was of age, it would be different.)
It kind of gave off the vibe that if the guy remained nice, then all of this would have been hunky dory, which it is not.
(Also, she gets really jealous of her perfectly nice best friend who she accuses of trying to steal her role in the play and I wish there was more making-up between them in the end of the book.)
With regards to Gabe’s plotline, I also felt uncomfortable with how women were portrayed in this storyline. There’s two main women in his life–Catherine, the demure, sweet girl that Gabe has a crush on because she’s nice and quiet and nothing like his ex-girlfriend, and Sasha, the psychotic ex-girlfriend who does a lot of bad things and comes off as unhinged and frames Gabe and is a complete antagonist in the whole story.
I wish there was more complexity to each of them because although we get reveals about who Catherine is, it also felt like Catherine and Sasha were both complete stereotypes and didn’t really have any complexities beyond their stereotype (especially Sasha).
For the whole story, Sasha was an antagonist and she was that evil bitch of a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend that you don’t want. I wish there was more to her character because she felt so simplistic in being an antagonist.
What I did like in this book was how suspenseful it was and the way the storylines intersected was really cool, but it also felt like it was telling something that had happened and then revealing how it all fits together, rather than being there as things happen.
Overall, I think this had potential to be a really strong read, but I wish there were more openly powerful and stereotype defying women in the novel. It was paced nicely and a super easy read, though.
These are all my own personal opinions and it’s just that the vibes I got didn’t really flow for me. If you read it, this book might translate completely differently for you, but in the way I interpreted it, there were things that I thought needed a little work. I probably wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for a psychological thriller.
Thank you so much to Penguin First to Read and Bookish First for providing me with a digital and physical copy in exchange for an honest review!