Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas: Another Favorite feat. Murder Mystery, Queer Teens, & Rural Towns

If you didn’t know, When Light Left Us was one of my favorite reads of 2018 and it’s such an underrated one. And so, when the opportunity arose to read Wild and Crooked, I totally pounced.

BUT Y’ALL. Leah Thomas is not a one-hit-wonder. Even in a fully contemporary setting, she manages to craft a unique and wonderful and poignant story, and I’m just so overwhelmed with love for her books.

Wild and Crooked, although tackling a new genre of contemporary, was so great and it not only had two amazing main characters, but a murder mystery, queer adults (not just queer teens!), a rural setting feat. poverty, and so much more.

Leah Thomas manages to write another wholly unique but extremely moving tale, and I could not be more in love with Wild and Crooked, for so many reasons.

The main characters are so individual and loveable!

Kalyn is quite the character. She’s prickly and maybe not the most polished, but you’ll probably end up loving her once you meet her. She might be brash and blunt and just run into things headfirst, but she’s also clever and loyal, and I really found her to be a strong main character.

She also goes through this incredible character ARC as she tries and hides herself while she’s at school (because her dad murdered the town’s golden boy decades back) under the name Rose, and although it works for most people, she eventually sheds the farce and embraces herself and I love it so much ahhh! She’s so fierce the whole way through. She also is lesbian!

Gus on the other hand is the son of the said golden boy who was murdered, and he’s roped into Kalyn’s orbit as his friend Phil (more on that later) wants him to ask her to prom for him, because of his disability. And that sounds super shitty and it is super shitty (and addressed later in the book), but Gus meets Kalyn this way! He also undergoes a lot of growth in the way that he really confronts his mom about a lot of things—the way she’s sheltering him, her past, and how she treats her not-officially-married-wife.

Both Kalyn and Gus have alternating points of views for the majority of the story, and then later on, Phil comes in. And he is my least favorite narrator, but it wouldn’t be a Leah Thomas book if we didn’t get at least three narrators.

I frankly hated Phil in the beginning, and although I still don’t like him, I understand him. I don’t want to spoil the book, but we learn more about Phil later on in the story, and although this doesn’t excuse his actions & he’s still held accountable, it gives more nuance to the plot.

The main characters were so unique and characters who I feel like will stick with me for a long time. They’re memorable and they each have their own struggles, and I loved that about them.

There’s not really any romance, but you do get the vibes that Kalyn is crushing on her friend (and side side character) Sarah, who is part of the popular crowd but likes Kalyn for who she is. And that Gus may or may not have had feelings for Phil in one point of time.

Also, we get a LOT of queer adults in this book. Gus’ mom, among many others. I liked seeing how the parents were present in this book, and some were also queer, which was really cool.

The small town was very “rural Southern-ish small town.”

It takes place in Kentucky, and Thomas really shows that small town Kentucky culture and how everyone knows everyone else, and how this plays a big role in the murder mystery portion.

Because Kalyn’s dad was convicted of murder of the golden boy, but we’re not so sure he did the murdering . . .

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think the town culture was really well captured, and it ended up playing a pretty big role in the story. Kalyn and her family (the Spences) are poor and they live on the fringes, while Gus & his family are more well-off, especially with the help of their Grandfather.

Murder mysteries have totally different feels depending on the location—LA, or a rural area?—and Wild and Crooked captures the rural murder mystery feels well.

I was just engrossed in the story & the characters & everything.

It’s hard to write a coherent review for this because I just love the story so much and I found it compelling and well written and was really invested in how this would end.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book of Leah Thomas’, and I think it’s severely underhyped and more people should know about it. Because I loved it so much and it’s one of my favorites of the year (again) and I want to shove it in everyone’s faces.


4.5 stars


Kalyn, her mom, and her grandmother moved back to Samsboro (also affectionately known as Shitsboro), Kentucky, which would mean a new school for any kid, but a lot more for Kalyn. As the daughter of a man who committed a first degree murder of Samsboro’s golden boy, Kalyn is in a precarious position.

So she uses the pseudonym Rose and plays nice with her classmates, hiding some of her true self. But when she and Gus get thrust together, more comes to light about Kalyn’s father’s alleged murder of Gus’ dad, and soon, things are heating up in Samsboro, Kentucky.

Not only causing a divide between the town, but the national media and Gus and Kalyn’s families as well.

More information on the representation: Kalyn is lesbian, Gus is gay/questioning, and Gus has cerebral palsy and aphasia. He wears a brace on one of his legs, he struggles with the muscles in his (right?) arm, and sometimes he uses a cane as well.

Content Warnings: ableism & ableist slurs, including the r-word (not condoned), queerphobia (not condoned)

add to goodreads here

Thank you so much to Bloomsbury YA for sending me an early finished copy in exchange for an honest review!

Have you read any of Thomas’ books? What did you think?

5 thoughts on “Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas: Another Favorite feat. Murder Mystery, Queer Teens, & Rural Towns

    1. Not really! it’s a little more character driven–if you’re worried about content, there’s nothing super gory or explicit (there’s talk about blood splatter and a little bit about violence) and there’s cursing, but it’s not like overly gory for shock value. It’s a lot more character driven, and so it’s more about the MCs who happen like decades after the murder, and the trial isn’t super in depth with this. Hope it helps! If you read, I hope you enjoy!!


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