Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Title: Everything You Want Me to Be29276588
Author: Mindy Mejia
Pages: 340
Year: 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads Synopsis: No one knows who she really is…

Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good girlfriend. But Hattie wants something more, something bigger, and ultimately something that turns out to be exceedingly dangerous. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death, the tragedy rips right through the fabric of her small-town community.

It soon comes to light that Hattie was engaged in a highly compromising and potentially explosive secret online relationship. The question is: Did anyone else know? And to what lengths might they have gone to end it? Hattie’s boyfriend seems distraught over her death, but had he fallen so deeply in love with her that she had become an obsession? Or did Hattie’s impulsive, daredevil nature simply put her in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading her to a violent death at the hands of a stranger?

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

This is a review that I have sat on for a while now, just because I was so stunned by this book. Everything You Want Me to Be is a book that has stayed with me since the very last page, and I’ve had a difficult time putting into words just how much I enjoyed it and how deeply it disturbed me.

The story is told from three alternating points of view; Hattie’s, Peter’s, and Del’s (the Sheriff investigating Hattie’s murder). Both men know vastly different versions of Hattie, and this is made apparent right away. In a small town setting where everybody knows everything about everybody, people are very surprised to learn that the popular girl they thought they knew was not all that she seemed.

This book is one of those books that will make you uncomfortable, but not in the reasons that you’re thinking. While being about the murder of one of the main characters, Everything You Want Me to Be is actually pretty tame when it comes to graphic violence. What’s disturbing about it is Hattie’s final year in high school, the events leading up to her death, and what caused everything to fall apart.

Hattie is a master in the art of manipulation, and by the time she turns eighteen, it’s as natural to her as breathing. This is not to say that she is a sociopath, but that she has learned how to perceive what will be most pleasing or attractive to each person in her life and changes her personality based on those preferences. Her manipulations are grounded in good intentions, but that level of self-regulation is exhausting to Hattie. When she finally decides to end the charade and mold herself into her best character yet (herself), she is murdered.

Even though there is a relationship between Hattie and a teacher, I wasn’t as uncomfortable with this as I would have previously imagined. This is not to say that I was completely comfortable with it, I wasn’t. But the 8-year age gap between Hattie and Peter seemed less and less significant as time went on, and I found myself feeling sorry for them knowing what was to come.

Peter Lund was a fascinating character. He’s a young teacher, new to the profession, having all the excitement and characteristics that make up the best kinds of teachers. However, he is not without his own problems. He’s become increasingly distant from his wife, as a result of being transplanted from big city life to his wife’s small hometown. He misses the opportunities that city life affords him, and feels alien to the farm life in which his wife is so capable.

Sheriff Del Goodman is less of a defined character. His purpose is to provide the reader with more details and discoveries about the investigation into Hattie’s murder. Being an old friend of Hattie’s family, he has a personal stake in the case and is therefore more involved and forthcoming with information, but he is still not as developed as the other narrators.

As far as structure, I thought that the pacing was very good. Mejia gave us certain revelations at the perfect times and withheld others until later. The investigation was filled with twists and false assumptions that kept me guessing until the very end. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was shocked yet again. Highly recommended to fans of the psychological thriller!

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Title: Defending Jacob11367726
Author: William Landay
Pages: 421
Year: 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own–between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

This was a really interesting read, I LOVED that it switched back and forth between Andy’s POV and the trial transcripts. The writing was pretty authentic, considering that William Landay is a former district attorney himself. He really knew what he was talking about with regard to legal jargon, which I really appreciated. Some authors really have no sense of the justice system and it really shows in their writing. (Seriously… write what you know.)

When I was recommended this book, I was told to expect a plot twist. The one I got was underwhelming. It was most definitely a plot twist, but it was so subtle that I didn’t even realize that it was a plot twist. (Should I say plot twist again?) I think most of the “twist” came from Andy being an unreliable narrator. For most of the novel, we’re viewing Jacob and the case through Andy’s eyes. We operate under the mental bias of a father protecting his only son and while it doesn’t influence your entire opinion of Jacob to the point of thinking of him as innocent, it definitely places a veil over the whole thing.

Finally, I thought that Defending Jacob did a great job exploring the question, “What would you do?” I am not a parent, but I don’t know what I would do if my child was accused of murder. How can you look at a person you created and raised up as being a cold-blooded killer? Would you believe or deny it? Would you protect them and possibly endanger other innocent lives? Or would you condemn them to a life in prison or even the death penalty? Andy and his wife Laurie fall on opposite ends of this spectrum. Andy believes wholeheartedly in his son’s innocence and does all he can to ensure Jacob has the best defense possible. Laurie has her doubts of Jacob’s innocence, and her inner turmoil of whether or not to condemn her only son is presented throughout the novel. As a single person without any children, it’s hard to say where I would fall on this spectrum. I hope that I never find out.

Broken Grace by E.C. Diskin

Title: Broken Grace25866725
Author: E.C. Diskin
Pages: 320
Year: 2015
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis: On an icy winter’s day in southwest Michigan, Grace Abbot wakes up as the survivor of a car crash. But she’s left with a traumatic brain injury and a terrifying reality: she can’t remember anything.

Left in the care of her sister, Grace returns to the family’s secluded old farmhouse to recover—but within an hour of her return, the police arrive. Grace’s boyfriend has been murdered. Without any memory, Grace has no alibi.

With suspicion weighing heavily on her and flashes of memory returning, Grace searches for clues to her past. But with every glimpse, her anxiety grows. There is something about the house, her family, her childhood…perhaps the accident isn’t the only reason she can’t remember. Are the dark recesses of her mind hiding something even more sinister and terrifying than she could ever imagine?

And someone is watching. Someone willing to kill again to protect a secret.

I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t impressed either. The first chapter really hooked me and got me interested and invested in Grace. But I thought the rest of the novel was very cookie-cutter. I’ve read a thousand other crime novels similar to or exactly like it. Diskin tries really hard to throw us off of the killer’s scent by exploring other leads and motives, but come on… We all knew the plot twist was coming. (Or at least I did.)

Grace’s memory loss was the most interesting part of the novel. It was reminiscent of The Girl on the Train, in which we have another unreliable narrator. (The similarities stop there, don’t get too excited.) Grace spends most of the novel in a fog, not remembering anything about her life before her car accident. When she is accused of murder, it’s a race against the police to get those memories back and clear her name. I thought Diskin did a good job portraying Grace’s frustration with this, and influencing the readers to be just as frustrated as she is. What’s real, and what isn’t? Who can we trust? Who is telling the truth?  However I thought the flashbacks she had, while informative, were kind of cheesy. I guess there really isn’t any other way to portray a returning memory than to write it out like a movie playing in a character’s head. But I wasn’t really a fan of this technique. I really don’t know what I wanted from this, but I just felt like it was a little unrealistic.