Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beautiful Malice

James, Rebecca. Beautiful Malice: A Novel. New York: Bantam Books - Random House, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

After the violent death of her little sister Rachel, popular Katie Boydell reinvents herself as quiet, keeps-to-herself Katherine Patterson. Moving in with her aunt and changing high school for her senior year complete the transformation.

Until Alice.

Alice is one of those girls who acts as her own center of gravity, always in the center of everything and dragging you in. Katherine can't resist her, and Alice pulls Katherine into Life again. It looks like everything could be alright in a post-Rachel world. But then Alice starts to devolve. And she's determined to take Katherine down with her.

I don't know that it's meant to be read this way, but Beautiful Malice was a great mystery. The entire story is told in flashbacks. Katherine, an adult with a young daughter, is looking back on her senior year of high school when she met and knew Alice. Eventually her teenage self is remembering and telling Alice about the events leading up to Rachel's death. In both scenarios, the reader should, on some level, know how the story ends: Katherine grows up and has a child; Rachel dies. And yet, I never felt impatient waiting for that end to come. In fact, there were plenty of points in the senior year storyline when I was sure that things could not possibly end the way adult Katherine seemed to imply that they would. Moreover, when the endings finally did come they were plenty twisted, making them surprising even if they really do amount to Katherine growing up and having a child and Rachel dying.

The bulk of the story is set during Katherine's senior year of high school, specifically when she is befriended by Alice. Katherine is Katherine, rather than Katie, because she is trying to move on in her life past Rachel's death, but it is still a big part of her. It takes a really long time for Katherine to open up to anyone, including the reader, about what happened to Rachel, and yet I wasn't annoyed by not knowing. From almost the beginning, I knew Katherine was dealing with some serious survivor guilt, but as her recollections of Rachel slowly unfolded, it became clear that her guilt went beyond just the guilt of still being alive. Katherine feels truly responsible for Rachel's death, and because her story of what really happened the night Rachel died is so drawn out, it looks like she just might be. She's dealing with all of this while she slowly gets sucked into Alice's world.

Alice, by the way, is the mayor of crazytown. She's fun-crazy in the beginning, always managing to have alcohol and a party to go to (and an awesome dress to wear to it, and one for you to borrow besides). She lives in an apartment of her own, paid for by her birth mother who feels guilty that Alice was adopted by hicks. She seems so grown-up and exotic to Katherine, who used to be a more suburban version of her. Alice drags Katherine back into the social scene she should have always inhabited, introduces her to new people and experiences, gains her complete trust and (for a while) adoration, and then goes crazy-crazy. When Katherine stops worshiping the ground Alice walks on and gets her own friends, Alice becomes possessive and stalker-y. It's pretty scary, and the lengths she goes to (and why) left me speechless.

I think Beautiful Malice will be devoured by readers looking for more thriller in their mysteries, but be warned that though Alice and Katherine are teenagers for most of the story, they have very few "typical" teen experiences. They're never in school, they hang out in bars, and they date grown men. I'm not saying that this book is inappropriate, because really, there's nothing graphic or too "adult" going on, but it's certainly not set in high school, even if the main characters are technically high schoolers.

Beautiful Malice will be available for purchase next month!

Book source: Review copy from the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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