I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway and received a free copy from Simon TEEN for review purposes. This does not affect my rating or opinions of the book.
Summary: Tell the truth. Or face the consequences.
One year ago, there was a party.
At the party, someone died.
Five teens each played a part and up until now, no one has told the truth.
But tonight, the five survivors arrive at an isolated mansion in the hills, expecting to compete in a contest with a $50,000 grand prize. Of course…some things are too good to be true. They were each so desperate for the prize, they didn’t question the odd, rather exclusive invitation until it was too late.
Now, they realize they’ve been lured together by a person bent on revenge, a person who will stop at nothing to uncover what actually happened on that deadly night, one year ago.
Five arrived, but not all can leave. Will the truth set them free?
Or will their lies destroy them all?
Genre(s): YA, Mystery, Thriller
Representation: Asian primary character, L/G/B undertones (accusations between characters + ambiguous statements + two isolated interactions)
Content warnings: death, threatened & actual graphic violence, unhealthy relationship (possessive/manipulative/stalking)
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What’s more fun than an unreliable narrator in a murder mystery? FIVE unreliable narrators in a twisted game based on a murder they were involved in. The third-person limited POV rotates between the major players — “class act” Juniper Torres, “drama queen” Ruby Valentine, “golden boy” Parker Addison, “meat head” Brett Carmichael, and “lone wolf” Gavin Moon — but it’s pretty easy to keep up since each chapter establishes quickly who we’re following now. And if that weren’t exciting enough, the narrative also jumps between past and present, so we get to learn the truth as the characters do, re-evaluating them as they re-evaluate each other in light of the new information. I can definitely see this as a great movie or even a limited series; the structure lends itself to suspense and dramatic reveals, and its emotional effect is heightened by carefully selected details and motifs scattered throughout the narrative till the very end.
That said, I did find it hard to really connect with any of the characters. Even setting aside the fact that we don’t spend long with any single one of them, they seemed to be defined by their motives, goals, and narrative role rather than distinctive personality or growth. Sure, I could tell you all about their tragic backstory and deepest desire, but so could a police report.
Of course, no story is complete without pre-existing ambiguous entanglements that flare up to complicate everything. There’s romantic drama and friend drama and general high-school drama, all of it relevant since this story is built on various forms of human interaction and connection. Still, while I appreciated the messy setup in theory — like the details of the game and murder, it’s tempting to draw a diagram just because the connections are all over the place— I wasn’t totally convinced by the love triangle between two very different boys (one, a perfect gentleman; the other, a possessive manipulator), the convenient but underdeveloped secondary (heterosexual) romance, the coy implications of homosexual attraction.
I was a little on the fence between 3 and 3.5 stars until the falling action/last reveal tipped the balance. No spoilers here, but I will say that it was well incorporated into the narrative flow and I probably should’ve seen it coming, but then again I’ve always been willing to suspend disbelief and allow sleight-of-hand to mislead me.
All in all, this novel combines a lot of well-known elements to create something that’s entertaining, if not very compelling. I enjoyed reading it, as will others who like stories about twisted high-stakes teenage games.