Complicit - Stephanie Kuehn


Okay, now that I've had a chance to calm down a bit, let me take the time to tell you what I think of everything that comes after that beautiful cover. So, here we go!
    There are some dreams you can't wake up from. These are the dreams that try and trick you. The ones that lull you into believing you're awake, that your eyes are open and your mind knows what it's doing. But it's a lie. In reality, you're paralyzed. And when something terrible comes for you, you can't move.
    No matter how hard you try.
    The story my sister tells me is not a nice one.
    It is not a dream I want to be having.
    But it's
    I can't escape it.
    No matter what you do.
Jamie Henry wakes up one morning to the unnerving pronouncement that his sister has been released from prison—two years earlier she was sent away to juvenile detention for burning down a barn full of horses, putting another girl in the hospital, and ruining Jamie's reputation. Cate Henry used to be a nice girl, but for some reason she started drinking, stealing, lying, and playing weird mind games with neighborhood children. Or at least that's what he's heard. And now she's back and Jamie... is... scared. Jamie has secrets of his own, though, and Cate is desperate to tell her brother the truth about the past. Kuehn's urgent narrative follows the siblings as they try to reconcile the past and their tenuous relationship before and after Cate's incarceration.
After Cate's arrest ... people stopped inviting me to their parties. They stopped inviting me anywhere. And not that it makes up for my loneliness or for anything,but I've sort of been okay with that. Cate changed me, too. Most people at my school knew her. Knew what she was like. So it's like we've all be tainted by her and her power. I hate that and maybe that's part of my attraction to Jenny. Moving here so recently, she never got to know Cate.
With Jenny's help, and with Cate lurking on the margins of his life, Jamie works to understand the past, and his own memories of who he thought his mother was. Cate's cryptic messages and notes, paired with the unreliable facts about Jamie's own history make the story at once twisted and beautifully labyrinthine. Kuehn's use of selective memory throughout the narrative will keep readers on edge for the entirety of the novel. Just when you think you've figured something out, you'll have to re-evaluate all of your assumptions when the next chapter reveals new clues and muddies previous ones.

Each person that Jamie encounters on his quest ignores his most urgent question: What happened to his mom? Everyone he asks wants him to concentrate on the present, not get sucked into the past and all that unpleasantness. You can very much feel the frustration as Jamie is denied access to his past again and again... and again.
"There's no truth than can change who you are. But looking into the past, at things that happened a long time ago, that can hurt you. Your sister's proof of that. So stop. All right?"
I will admit that I found moments of confusion amidst the sharp writing and taught narrative, but I feel that overall Kuehn's skill keeps the story from hurtling into a space of pure chaos. I also wondered about Jenny's role in the narrative. She's a wonderfully fleshed-out secondary character, but I felt, at times, as though she was a bit too much of the supportive sidekick to Jamie's conflicted protagonist. Either way, she brings much to the story, and she is definitely memorable in her support of Jamie's struggles:
I like that she doesn't pet my hand and ask if I'm okay when it's pretty clear that I'm not. I like that she doesn't encourage me to smile sweetly and tell bland lies in order to spare her feelings. I like her. Period.
In a way, Complicit reminds me of E. Lockhart's We Were Liars, in that there is a lot of questioning, a lot of searching for clues from the past and the present, and then a huge, mind-blowing "holy shit" moment at the end. Going over the last few chapters in my head, over and over again, I still can't figure out if I'm satisfied with the ending. I want more, but maybe that's just a sign of the compelling nature of the story. Maybe I wanted more explanations, but perhaps there's room for ambiguity and an incompleteness. The more I think about it, though, the more I it makes me think.

Read it!

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from and Advance Reading Copy - Out June 24, 2014)


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