Published on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Would you risk your life to save your best friend?
Julia did. When a paroled predator attacked Liv in the woods, Julia fought back and got caught. Liv ran, leaving Julia in the woods for a terrifying 48 hours that she remembers only in flashbacks. One year later, Liv seems bent on self-destruction, starving herself, doing drugs, and hooking up with a violent new boyfriend. A dead girl turns up in those same woods, and Julia’s memories resurface alongside clues unearthed by an ambitious reporter that link the girl to Julia’s abductor. As the devastating truth becomes clear, Julia realizes that after the woods was just the beginning.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A year ago, Julia Spunk sacrificed herself to save her best friend from a paroled predator in the woods. Now a girl’s body has been found, and Julia’s new therapist is upending memories she’d suppressed of her terrifying 48 hour ordeal. But Julia’s more interested in the downward spiral her BFF Liv has gotten herself into, dating an abusive boy and starving herself. How is it all linked?
So the basic plot, without giving away too many spoilers, is that Julia and Liv were attacked in the woods, but Julia saved Liv, who took off running while Julia got a broken ankle. After her (single) mother whisker her away to recover, Julia returns to her normal life almost a year after the trauma to find Liv flattened by an abusive mother and boyfriend, a girl’s body found in the woods, an ambitious reporter probing and manipulating Julia for the headlines, and her suppressed memories resurfacing. Julia is determined to uncover the secrets, lies, and conspiracies behind what couldn’t just have been a random attack on her, although the second half of the book really focuses more on Liv ,and Julia makes discoveries that both surprised and shocked me leading to an awesome plot point I can’t even talk about because SPOILERS.
I liked Julia as a character – she was the smart, nerdy type, the best friend to the pretty, popular, do-anything-to-stay-on-top Liv. She thinks things through, makes lists, and analyses all of the clue she uncovers. She uses her contacts to discover more and she’s not afraid to manipulate people – or be manipulated in return, knowing that it must be tit-for-tat. She’s also ridiculously brave and doesn’t hesitate to throw herself at a crazy man with a knife aimed at her best friend.
Liv is practically drowning under the abuse of her ambitious, image-obsessed mother and new, rough boyfriend. We don’t really get to see much of what Liv was like before the woods, and I was really quite disappointed at Liv and Julia’s friendship after the woods. It seemed really lukewarm. I remember the intensity of my own high school friendship with my BFF, but Liv always seemed really cool, almost cruel towards Julia, twice reminding Julia – almost hysterically – that Julia wasn’t raped in the woods. I really felt like Liv and Julia were more acquaintances than actual friends, let alone BFF. Liv doesn’t even really seem to care – she’s got her own shit going on. In fact, I’d probably quite like to see this story from Liv’s point of view as well, as a companion novel perhaps. She’s smarter, more manipulative and more desperate than Julia, and quite hard to feel sympathy for even if she is being abused. Look, I’ve even written more here about Liv than about Julia, and Julia was the main character! I’d love to write more about Liv, but I really don’t want to spoil what was a fantastic plot point.
I really loved the writing style. I found it clean and easy to follow. Julia had a great narrative voice and every character was so clearly defined it was almost as if they’d been carved into glass. I liked the romance – the uncertainty of the way Julia felt about someone paying that kind of attention to her – was it because she was famous, or did he really like her for her? So there’s a bit of romance but in no way does it overshadow the main plot and it’s definitely not ‘insta-love’. I enjoyed how Julia uncovered the pieces of the puzzle, even though I felt that in the end I was a little unsatisfied. The biggest issue for me was that I thought it was leading to a big confrontation between Julia and a particular character, but Julia seemed to change her mind and the ending almost felt like it came out of left field, it wasn’t the ending I was expecting and really made the book more about Liv’s story than Julia’s.
Right at about 80% through, when the novel should have been ramping up to an explosive finale, the pace really dropped. Julia was collecting all of her evidence and getting ready to, I don’t know, accuse some characters of something I can’t mention because it’ll spoil the plot. But a new, minor, completely irrelevant character was introduced and then Julia changed her mind about approaching the character and it fell really flat and I started to get bored. But before that, I was eager to read along with Julia as she played detective and relived her memories and dealt with the aftermath of the woods and everything resurfacing because of the anniversary of the ordeal.
This is a novel containing diverse characters and really made me question what is a victim – is a victim still a victim if they planned their victimhood all along? It has echoes of Gone Girl in that vein. I found the mystery compelling, although I didn’t much like the female friendship portrayed, but most of the book was an interesting, engaging read. Although it sounds like I had a lot to criticise, I want to reinforce that I found this a 4 star read, which to means it’s Nearly Perfect. I was highly engaged and invested in the book for a very long time and spent a lot of my non-reading time thinking about the various issues Savage had raised.
If you like thrillers, suspenseful stories, or mysteries, or even contemporary YA novels that are a little bit darker, I think you’ll like this. And can I just say I adore the author’s name?