Sunday, June 05, 2016

Aforethought? With Malice by Eileen Cook

Beep, Beep. Beep. Beep.

My hand couldn't muster the energy to turn off the alarm. The blanket felt wrong.

This isn't my bed.

I hoped I'd remembered to call my mom. I was going to be in deep shit for not coming home.

I forced my eyes open. I turned my head to see the alarm but as soon as I moved, there was a shot of pain like a dental drill. My vision blurred. It wasn't a clock. It was some kind of machine. Plastic tubing connected it to me.

I was in a hospital.

Jill Charron's last memory is of a party celebrating the successful run of the senior production of Grease, with her best friend Simone in the starring role of Sandy. But then she learns that that memory is six weeks old, that she remembers nothing since that night--not her long-awaited Adventure Abroad in Italy, and certainly not the car crash that killed Simone, not the chartered flight back to the U.S. her wealthy father arranged or the weeks in and out of consciousness since, nor any explanation for Simone's death. At the rehabilitation hospital, her psychiatrist tells her she has retrograde amnesia, a deep inability to remember anything in the six weeks since the cast party.

As the next weeks go by, what she is told about the time in Italy is even more disturbing. Jill reads that students on the tour reported that she had slapped Simone during a quarrel over a boy, Nicolo, one of the Italian guides, with whom she had become close during the first week abroad, and that the next day Jill, with Simone in the passenger seat, had driven a rented car off a road and into a ravine in a town she's never heard of. Two Italian police claim evidence that the accident was no accident, but the result of malice aforethought on Jill's part, cause for her extradition to Italy for trial for murder.

Jill begins to read news reports, which recount the jealous quarrel with Simone and report a bloody knife with her fingerprints in the wrecked car. A blog called "Justice for Simone" reveals some of her classmates picturing the reserved, studious Jill as a vindictive frenemy, jealous of the outgoing, popular Simone. Jill begins to have fragmentary memories from the time in Italy, including one horrifying moment in a car with Simone screaming in terror beside her. And when Jill learns that Simone was the abusive troll who caused her to shut down her blog, she realizes that the girl she thought was her best friend clearly was something else.

Had Simone intentionally tried to take Jill's first boyfriend away just to prove she could? Had Simone smugly told her the truth when confronted? And had Jill reacted with enough malice aforethought to risk ending her own life to take Simone's?

Eileen Cook's With Malice (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is suspenseful page-turner that doles out evidence but leave leave many questions, a teaser of a mystery with no classic solution, a finish that will doubtless leave young adult readers with different conclusions as to where, if with anyone, the true guilt lies. But, oh, what a trip this novel is, with its slow but relentless revelation of the hidden intricacies of the human heart.

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