Sunday, May 5, 2019

We Know It Was You by Maggie Thrash

This book was given to me as a gift. It probably isn't something I would have picked out on my own, as I'm not the biggest fan of YA detective stories and the ratings on Goodreads are abysmal. WE KNOW IT WAS YOU is proof that sometimes it pays to give low-rated books a chance. It won't be topping any of my "best books of all time" lists, but it was fast-paced and fun.

WE KNOW IT WAS YOU takes place in an elite, mostly christian boarding school in Atlanta, Georgia. There's a lot of classism and snobbery, as one might expect, as well as sexism, racism, and general close-mindedness - even (most painfully) when they're trying to be progressive. The main characters are Virginia, a girl who used to run a Gossip Girl style blog that ended up ostracizing her from her peers and who now spends all her time trying to cultivate an aura of mystery, and Benny, a stuffed shirt Sherlockian wannabe who is president of the "Mystery Club," which he uses subconsciously to distance himself from the pain of being an outcast and trying not to deal with his father's loss of brain function after a terrible accident.

One day, the beautiful twin sister of one of the cheerleaders, who happens to be the school mascot, races off the field - in costume - to the bridge, and plunges, ostensibly, to her death. The school is in an uproar, and becomes an exercise in dramatic grief with the students trying to upstage each other in a grotesque contest of Who Is More Upset. Benny and Virginia investigate the scene and come across a camera that apparently recorded the whole thing, along with numerous other unsavory scenes. It quickly becomes apparent that something twisted is happening, and that what looked at first glance to be a suicide or a terrible accident might have actually been murder.

A lot of the negative reviews for this book criticize WE KNOW IT WAS YOU for its lack of rep, and for some rather questionable passages. Considering where this book is set - an obscenely snobby boarding school in Georgia - that actually made sense. One of the most understated scenes in this book is when a patriarchal gym teacher gives a well-intended but grossly insensitive and incorrect PSA to his male students that could just as easily be called How Not to Rape Women 101. It's disgustingly sexist, and yet I got the impression that it was supposed to be satirical instead of serious. There are many moments like this, delivered tongue in cheek, that offer some pretty dark but on point satire about teen culture, adult hypocrisy, corporate pandering, and various other things.

It's true that several of the villains in this book are PoCs and given the lack of positive rep, that does feel unbalanced and short-sighted. Especially since the book does try to deliver positive messages about empowerment in other parts (for example, the moment when Virginia finally tells Benny off for being patronizing towards her). I could forgive the lack of rep if that was the only problem, but introducing PoCs just to have them as the villains did feel icky.

The three elements about this book that I found hardest to wrap my mind around, for various reasons, were 1) the villains all getting off scot-free, 2) the way male rape was brought up and then, immediately afterwards, dismissed without consequence (related to #1), and 3) a fundamental misunderstanding of how hypnosis works, portraying it instead as something like voodoo.

Despite these problems, I did enjoy the book. I never really knew what was going to happen next, and every time I thought it would go in one direction, it ended up going in another. Sometimes it went off in another direction because of bad reasons (see hypnosis), but there was also some decent plotting in here that kept the story from becoming stale. If you don't mind cheesy horror-like novels that read like a dated Point Horror imprint from the 90s, and enjoy reading about a cast of morally bankrupt characters that are all flawed and unlikable, this is a great book for you. And I am that person.

3 out of 5 stars

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