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First line. Think of a book that literally has all the ingredients to be the perfect murder mystery. A murder that is most mysterious, a victim with quite a few enemies, four suspects, all of them with something to hide, and an amazing plot twist. Imagine, then, that the author just blindly threw all these elements into a blender, crossed their fingers and hoped for the best. That is precisely what happened in this book. The author could have honestly made this book into an amazing novel, but she instead managed to create a concoction blander than a bowl of mashed potatoes.
It starts of on a high note with Simon’s murder and the resulting suspicion that is thrown on the four protagonists. Anddd it then immediately goes downhill. After the intriguing beginning, the book settles down into a lukewarm pace. While the book does keep you hooked due to the beginning, it becomes very predictable after a certain point, both in terms of what the characters will do as well as the identity of the killer. This in turn creates a sense of tediousness as you’re no longer in a state of suspense or anticipation.
Honestly the worst part for me were the four main characters themselves. They were so banal and overused that I just couldn’t relate or sympathize with any of them. But before I get into that, let’s have a short summary of the book itself.
A peculiar set of circumstances throw four high school students - Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper and Nate - in detention on the very first day of school. They are in for a nasty surprise when Simon Kelleher, the creator of “About That”, Bayview High’s most notorious gossip app, and their fellow detention mate suffers an anaphylactic shock and needs to be sent to the hospital. Traumatized, they receive yet another blow when news comes from the hospital that Simon has breathed his last. What started out to be a normal day, serves as a catalyst for a chain of events that throw all of their lives into disarray. The way a single pebble can destroy the calm of even the most peaceful of waters, Simon’s death too sends ripples across each of their lives. In a single day, the four of them go from unobtrusive high school students to suspects in a high-profile murder case.
Over the course of the investigation, shocking things are discovered. One by one the secrets that they thought they’d buried forever, are brought to light. Not only does this destroy their carefully crafted images but also gives each of them a motive. It’s evident that one of them did it; the only question that remains is which one?
Bronwyn Rojas’ entire life has always revolved around one and only one thing, getting into Yale University. Cooper Clay is the popular jock trying to make it to the big leagues in baseball. With an overbearing father breathing down his neck, Cooper cannot afford to get distracted by anything. Addy Prentiss has it all, popularity, beauty and an ideal boyfriend. Her picture-perfect life is the envy of all. Nate Macauley is a bad boy through and through. He certainly fits the bill, whether it’s dealing drugs on the side, being on probation and one strike away from jail, or his don’t care attitude. Which one of them was so desperate to keep his or her secret safe that they would resort to murder?
Most readers would be more than slightly interested in the book at this point. I felt the exact same way upon reading the blurb. But somewhere by the middle of the book, I felt this overwhelming sense of ennui and by the end of the book I was under waves of disappointment. Like I mentioned before, an appealing premise but it became a wasted opportunity. Therefore, instead of a noteworthy whodunnit, we end up with an average murder mystery.
Two principal factors that doomed the book to mediocrity were the revelation of Simon’s killer and the protagonists themselves. There is so much wrong with how the author does the reveal that I don’t even know where to start. The identity of the killer could have been a spectacular, jaw dropping, gasp-worthy plot twist had the author presented it in ANY OTHER way than what she did. Instead, we get a half-baked explanation for an underwhelming reveal.
Now, let’s deal with the principal characters. I had briefly touched on this before, but I will now go into more detail. All four of them are your archetypical stereotypes. Like I said before, they are banal and cliched. Bronwyn the brainiac, Cooper the jock, Addy the princess and Nate the outcast/bad boy. I know that all good books are basically the same stories being retold in unique ways. Of course, characters will share similarities and can become cliched. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. Trust me I know all that and I understand that. But it is the character development that breathes life into these carboard characters. These characters go through a series of life-changing events in a very short span of time. They deal with the death of a classmate, become murder suspects and in the process have their secrets outed. You would expect some change in their behaviors, personalities, how they think and how they react. But, nope, nothing, nada, zilch. With the exception of Addy, the other three remain EXACTLY the same at the beginning and end of the book. Their characters arcs are FLAT, more like non-existent.
Nate was probably the most boring and one-dimensional character I’ve ever read. His don’t care attitude is basically his entire defining personality trait throughout the book. Bronwyn and Cooper weren’t much better, with the both of them sticking to the formulaic nerd and jock respectively. Addy did manage to surprise me. She was one of my favorite characters because out of the four main characters, she was the only one had some sort of character arc/development. She was a princess who had everything. When her secret is exposed, her life shatters just like the other three. What makes her different is that she not only survives these cracks and ripples but manages to even thrive. She sees things about herself that she didn’t like and changes them. She goes from being a compliant yea-sayer, to someone strong capable of having an opinion. She ends up playing a crucial role in the investigation.
Surprisingly enough, the side characters were one of the few positive elements in the book. They added sarcasm and humor, which the main characters miserably failed to. Maeve, Bronwyn’s younger sister and Ashton, Addy’s elder sister, are the saving graces of the book. Although they don’t have much of a role, they still manage to make an impact. On the other hand, the stars of the show had almost the entire book to themselves, but their impact was barely felt.
A strong premise and opening is however undone by a weak plot, uninspiring protagonists, and an unsatisfying plot twist that is a prelude to a tame ending. All these made for a book that crashed and burned. A lot of people really enjoyed this book, but it just didn’t click for me.
© 2021, Anika Agarwal. All rights reserved.