August 03, 2016

With Malice

by Eileen Cook
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
316 pp.
Ages 13+
June 2016

Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron just wants the truth.  Waking up in a hospital room without any memories of how she got there and struggling to find words because of a brain injury means that getting at the truth is not going to be easy.  As the byline to the book states, "The truth is how you tell it" and it seems the truths are multitudinous and varied.

Jill's divorced parents seem to want to keep a lot of truths from her, especially the key one that Simone McIvory, Jill’s best friend, was killed in the car being driven by Jill while on a school trip in Italy.  The police, both American and Italian, as well as Evan Stanley, her high-priced lawyer, are badgering her for the truths she can’t remember.  And everybody else, from other students on the trip, to newspaper reports, crime drama series, and subscribers to the “Justice for Simone” blog are more than willing to share their opinions as to the truth.  But what is the truth and is there only one?

While Jill, whisked back to the States by her rich and demanding father, endures rehab and counselling to help heal her body and six weeks of memory loss, the police interview Simone’s parents who portray their daughter as a confident and popular teen with old-fashioned values, and Jill as a less well-liked girl from a broken home and desperate for attention.  Though the strength of their friendship is recognized by many who knew them, different stories arise with regards to the two girls-chilly or friendly, studious or popular, jealous or self-centered–by those who knew them well or just marginally and even by those who’d never met them but nastily weigh in on the news story.
It doesn’t matter what’s true–what matters is what people believe.” (pg. 102)
Eileen Cook brilliantly layers the multifaceted truths recounted in blog posts, transcripts of police interviews, newspaper articles, yearbooks, and other media as she intricately develops the subplots of With Malice, all with the purpose of revealing what actually happened to Simone and Jill in that car in Italy.  Below the very concrete mess of a mangled car lies a substantial mess of romance, anger, pettiness, jealously, hurt and misplaced affection.  The ultimate truth is both expected and surprising and Eileen Cook reveals it with breath-taking patience, taking YA readers on a suspenseful read all the way to the end before exposing a friendship admittedly more fragile than honest.

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