Hot Key books regularly publish really interesting and fun books with unreliable narrators which keep you guessing until the very end what happened and whodunnit and who’s lying to whom in what way. That’s part of why I love being on their blogger list – Hot Key publish not only swooping fantasy and laugh-out-loud humour, they pick really engrossing thrillers which keep you wrapped up in suspense and almost drag you into the pages with the characters.
With Malice is a great example of this, which intersperses the memories and recovery process of Jill, our narrator, with a variety of other perspectives, from police interviews to blog posts, newspaper reports and television shows which help the reader as they try to piece together what exactly happened on that trip to Italy which two teenage girls went on together, which had such long-lasting repercussions.
Wish you weren’t here…
When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn’t just an accident.
With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn’t the one to blame?
This book hinges largely on the premise of an unreliable narrator. Jill, the main character, has retrograde amnesia after that fatal car accident, and is missing not only the day of the accident itself, but also the weeks leading up to her trip to Italy. This makes for a tense and unsettling book as Jill discovers the events of her trip like some kind of outside observer – she learns facts through police investigations and press reveals, reading about her own actions and involvement in salacious blogposts and gossip chat shows.
I’ve mentioned a few times before that while I like an unreliable narrator and think it can be done really well, there are situations where it just doesn’t hold up under investigation. Gone Girl and Birdy, for example, do it well, where the reason for the unreliability is believable. On the other hand, books like Dangerous Girls and Black Cairn Point don’t justify the unreliability, since they’re told through an internal monologue. With Malice intersperses internal monologue with external sources, and does a great job of putting across the confusion and unreliability of any evidence. Blog posts are torn apart as the exaggerations of teenage girls who want more attention, police interviews are revealed to be hiding facts out of self-interest, and Jill herself is struggling to distinguish what she remembers from what she’s imagining, and constructing from what she’s been told.
There are two primary relationships depicted in this book – Jill with Simone, her best friend from school, and Jill with Anna, her roommate. Both are intricately drawn, showing the variability and cattiness, codependency and sometimes unhealthy nature of adolescent female friendships, but ultimately also showcasing the solid foundations and support which can come from experiencing life, and life-changing events, together.
I ripped through this book in a day, and was left quietly unsettled by the end. Eileen Cook is a very effective writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed the depiction of Jill’s car-crash experience of life, the justice system, the media, and rehab. Definitely one of the better examples of YA thrillers that I’ve read, a really great example of an unreliable narrator and an ending which felt satisfying while still being vaguely unsettling.