Before going into this novel, I saw a few of my friends on Goodreads giving it low ratings, saying it felt “forced”, “weird”, and “boring”, three adjectives that would have sent any person in the right state of mind running. There was even one who put it into the DNF pile! Knowing these people were well-known bloggers whose opinions I hold in high regard, I was instantly wary, and obviously, afraid of meeting the same assessments. I may love books, but I dread reading a bad one because 1.) I do not want to waste time; and 2.) as much as possible, I want to avoid writing negative reviews, especially about a debut work.
So, moments before I commenced, I thought to myself that I should read with an open mind and let go of my prejudices and preconceived notions. The first ten pages are crucial to keeping my interest, and I vowed to see it through even if I meet the same problems my peers had.
That’s what I did. And when I finished reading the last page, I found myself feeling uplifted and teary-eyed. This book turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
At first, I was also weirded out by the rather unique voice of Kippy Bushman, but reading more, I found myself gradually liking her. She was odd and quirky. She would blurt out the weirdest of things to herself and to other people in the most inopportune times. She has a rather dark and strange sense of humor that some people may find hard to appreciate (took me a while, too!). She was also an awkward person, but not in a sense that she was clumsy, but in an adorable, endearing way in which she would comment about a person’s ripped finger just to let them know she’s there. Here’s an example from a scene where she collaborates with Davey, her best friend’s brother, in order to investigate her murder:
I turn around and see him reaching underneath his gray sweater to tuck his blue plaid shirt behind his tan belt.
“I like your finger,” I blurt.
“You mentioned.” He raises his eyebrows. “Thanks.”
“You’re very welcome.” It comes out sounding too loud. Something about Davey makes me want to raise my voice and talk in all caps. Like, NO MATTER WHAT I’M SAYING I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW I’M HERE AND VERY EXCITED.
And when she finally realizes that things are not what they seem and considers finding things out herself…
I look out at Mrs. Klitch laughing in her folding chair, gleefully kicking her boots against the cold grass. Certain people might be able to ignore this but I can’t leave Davey alone with the knowledge that things just aren’t right – because he isn’t crazy, and it’d be mean to pretend he is just because that’s easier.
But what do I even do? Because honestly I don’t even know what I’m after or up against here. I mean, the cops won’t listen and everyone else has their heads inside their butts trying to be polite. Not to mention, Frienship is actually way less boring but maybe also much more weird and creepy than I thought it was, and nobody really prepared me for that.
I guess the real question is: How would a professional handle this? I know that if I were Diane Sawyer, I’d be serious and focused and composed and beautiful and perfect – wait, I’m getting off track. The point is that I’ve got to handle it correctly. Because who knows? Maybe if I do this right, and get to the bottom of things, it could be the sort of masterpiece that might even make Diane Sawyer cock her head and say, “Hey there, who the heck is that?”
I understand why some people would find these things “forced”, but I honestly enjoyed it and didn’t see it that way, because while she indeed had a lot of quirks, there was an abundance of internal monologue (as you can see above) that really made her personality shine. She felt like a genuine teenager with a real voice. When she would talk to us, sometimes she would get side-tracked, too – a habit perfectly normal even to the most of us. It was a very intimate experience reading her talk about herself and her relationships with other people. She was also a very flawed character and was not without her own mistakes. During her investigation, due to her bizarre quirks, she messed up a lot of times and shot herself in the foot as well. I am not denying that even I felt frustrated whenever she made obvious faults and avoidable errors, but I thought to myself that this made sense because of her personality and her inexperience in socializing with others outside Ruth, her dad, and Ralph. She was a darling, and quite possibly one of the most original characters I’ve ever read, with layers and layers of complexity underneath (yes, there is more to her than her awkwardness, but that would be spoilers!). All I can say is I enjoyed seeing the story and mystery unfold in her eyes. Adding to that was her growth, making it a very fulfilling experience.
Despite the book being largely character-driven, it was still able to give me a deeper look into the town of Friendship and its inhabitants. Beneath the slangs (You betcha! Dontcha know? Oh my Gah!) is a rather creepy and disturbing backdrop, where each of the secondary characters have secrets up their sleeves and we are left uncertain who to trust and who to suspect. Many of these characters were very unconventional and were complex in their own way. There was Dom, the father and a psychiatrist who had a hard time handling Kippy since the death of his wife. He uses his trade on his daughter in hopes of being able to raise her properly (he even posted the five stages of grief on the refrigerator!). There was Libby, a popular girl with D-cups and a Christian background who insists on using “Gah” instead of “God” and who launches a campaign for Ruth despite not being friends. There’s Staake, the town’s sheriff who never finished high school and is in a power trip, using his position for many unethical things, who may or may not have an ulterior motive to arresting Colt, a football player who was a douchebag through and through. We even learn more about Ruth and her deeper, dark side through her diary. There were a lot of things going on in the background, and knowing that we have yet to unfold the bigger picture made me look forward to reading the next chapters. What I appreciated the most about these “strange” characters is how they illuminate or represent the many flaws and realities of our OWN community. Putting labels on you just because you fit a certain criteria, pushing you towards a particular direction because that’s the accepted norm, going the easy way even though it’s wrong, becoming biased towards a particular person or thing because of hidden grudges despite of the possibility he or she is innocent, and exploiting one’s power for one’s own gains… these were what made the town of Friendship in this book extra scary – the parallelism that hits close to home.
My only complaint was that somewhere in the 60-80% percent of the book, things got really weeeeird (read: fucked-up) and it left me confused for a little while. And also that bit where Kippy kissed a certain guy out of the blue and for no reason at all. I was shaking my head and raising my eyebrows to the high heavens at that scene as it didn’t make sense to me. I finally understood it later, though, when Kippy explained the reason why she did it. Just a bit of warning there in case you get off guard by that scene, too.
All in all, I thought this was a brilliant work. I didn’t find it cliché and I definitely didn’t find it boring. It may be unconventional, but this character-driven mystery book was a thrilling ride all the way, and I absolutely recommend it to those who want something new and out of the box.