Sixteen-year-old Devon Mackintosh has always felt like an outsider at Keaton, the prestigious California boarding school perched above the Pacific. As long as she’s not fitting in, Devon figures she might as well pad her application to Stanford’s psych program. So junior year, she decides to become a peer counselor, a de facto therapist for students in crisis. At first, it seems like it will be an easy fly-on-the-wall gig, but her expectations are turned upside down when Jason Hutchins (a.k.a. “Hutch”), one of the Keaton’s most popular students, commits suicide.
Devon dives into her new role providing support for Hutch’s friends, but she’s haunted by her own attachment to him. The two shared an extraordinary night during their first week freshman year; it was the only time at Keaton when she felt like someone else really understood her. As the secrets and confessions pile up in her sessions, Devon comes to a startling conclusion: Hutch couldn’t have taken his own life. Bound by her oath of confidentiality—and tortured by her unrequited love—Devon embarks on a solitary mission to get to the bottom of Hutch’s death, and the stakes are higher than she ever could have imagined.
An ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review. All the thoughts here are mine, and were not influenced in any way.
Ok, if you know me, I’m a person who likes to be honest and real with those who read my reviews (and if you are, I sincerely thank you from the pits of my heart), and this instance is no exception. I’ll be truthful here – there are good things and bad things to be found in this book. I’m not saying those are concrete goods and bads, though, because what I will disclose are purely subjective; that is to say, you may like ’em, you may not, and whatever your position/stance is regarding them may break or make the novel for you.
Let’s get to the bad first.
For starters, this book has too much drugs, alcohol, and sex. Remember Gossip Girl, this show of powertripping kids who live and drown in these three things? If those stuff disturbed and disgusted you, you may wanna reconsider trying this novel out, because the storyline pretty much centers on drugs (a drug cartel, to be specific), and intense party goer kids who have sex and hook-ups everywhere. And they all get away with it. There’s an air of entitlement, of elitism, and of an arrogance that’s just a wee bit annoying. Granted, I’m not someone from the upper class, so I have zilch idea whether such a situation really does happen. I’m a bit skeptical, but maybe it does realize itself here and there – a whole population of people (or at least the majority of it anyway) involved in a drug cartel, under the noses of the administration, without even arousing any form of suspicion. How convenient, huh? Echoing what I said, if this bothers you, reconsider. There’s too much of it.
But for me, it was easy to overlook, thanks to the amazing narration and the curious, determined heroine. The narrator of this story is Devon, a girl who got into this prestigious school thanks to a scholarship. She used to be a shy individual, seemingly cautious and wary of making friends with the rest of the student populace, but this all changed when she met and got trapped with Hutch, one of the school’s Legends for having Keaton alumni in his family, while trying to get milk and cookies. But that was before. At the present time, Hutch is dead, and she becomes a peer counselor to the deceased’s friends. Deep inside her, however, she knows that Hutch didn’t kill himself; her one memory with him, of him, of the person she got to know deeply, didn’t indicate a guy who’d end his life just like that. And so she’ll try to find out, however possible.
If you like a narration that will quickly suck you in and engross you in the story, this book is one of them. I had a lot of fun reading the heroine’s thoughts and “assumptions” as she worked about her inner Nancy Drew. Even though she’s mainly acting as someone merely observing and listening to other people, it still has this personal touch because the deceased was someone she knew, and that intimacy made it even more suspenseful. The build-up is slow, the tension and escalation of events steady, but the suspense will keep your toes curling. Did Hutch really kill himself? Was there more to the story? Was it a murder? If so, who?
There is also this uncanny air of sadness in the atmosphere, making the read more intimate than I thought possible. Throughout the story, we are given flashbacks of that one night Devon spent with Hutch trapped in the kitchen when they went out to get milk and cookies during their freshman year. As a reader, we already know that he’s dead, and their antics make everything a lot more melancholic. Like Devon, we, readers, get to know more about him like how he’s more than just the operations he does, how there’s an innate kindness and carefreeness inside of him, contributing to a sympathy for the both the heroine and the could-have-been.
The author was able to write what I said above very well, and this, I think, made the book a spectacular one for me. The feelings from this factor alone is powerful and haunting: the feeling of looking back and regretting what you could’ve done, the feeling of knowing a person’s worth only after they’re gone, the feeling that there was a chance, an opportunity at something so formidable, and if only you took it when it stopped by your door. To me, it stirred up a lot of emotions, and it was because of this that I couldn’t get away from the story. My only regret is that I wish I read it earlier.
All in all, get this if you want a powerful and at the same time, a suspenseful whodunit mystery read. While it may be true there is a disturbing amount of drugs, sex, and alcohol, it is easy to overlook them if you’re mainly looking for a good narration, mystery, heroine, and values. In the end, there are lessons to learn from, and it is in my belief that these are the most important of all.
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