by Megan Miranda
When Mallory kills her boyfriend Brian in self-defense, her childhood ends. Although she is found innocent, Mallory quickly becomes a social pariah. She is suspected of dishonesty by most in her community and deemed a brutal killer by others, but no one judges Mallory more harshly than she judges herself. Hoping to escape the haunting memories of that night, Mallory transfers to her father’s alma mater, the elite prep school Monroe, where she can start afresh. Yet, her past continues to haunt her. And when Mallory is blamed for another untimely death—she begins to wonder what is real and what is “hysteria.”Although a main thread in the novel is Mallory’s tentative grasp on reality, a constant feeling that she is either being haunted or may be experiencing a sort of psychological hysteria, the tone of this story could not be more real. This sense of the real is the main strength of the novel. So many times when characters die in literature, their death is treated as a novelty, an aside, a fact from the past to be greeted with mild interest at best and with apathy in most cases. Through Mallory’s eyes, the reader begins to grasp the impact of the death. The reader feels what it would be like to take the life of someone else, even in self-defense. They smell the blood, hear the gasps of the dying, sense the spirit leaving the body, stand beside the cold corpse. The reader understands the doubt, the guilt, the second-guessing that victims must go through in the aftermath of such an event. They see the tendency of bystanders to blame the victim. Ironically, Brian becomes a living, breathing person through the haunting that Mallory experiences. Equally realistic is the development of Mallory’s character from a typical, ornery teenager who isn’t above a little manipulation, interested in boys and fun, to the brooding, guilt-written young woman that she becomes. And this transition is not limited to Mallory. In the space of one evening, she and her best friend Colleen, who shares a bond with Mallory beyond sisterhood, must suddenly “[say] good-bye….To the future…Even if…the future was just tomorrow.” Unlike many of us who experience this transition into adulthood slowly, these characters are not so fortunate. The novel is a sophisticated read to be sure, with a tone and tension (and alas even a line) borrowed from Poe himself, and it is this tone that lends suspense to the work. While less ambitious readers may find the beginning of the novel slow, more advanced readers will appreciate Miranda’s skill. The subtle use of foreshadowing, well-placed flashbacks, superior character development, and the intricately woven mystery will be a treat for these readers who will undoubtedly find themselves engrossed (as I was) from beginning to end.