I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital bed, very incapacitated and very confused. The past six weeks of her life have been completely erased from her mind – including a trip out of the country, the death of her best friend, and the possibility that Simone’s death…wasn’t the tragic accident some would like to believe.
I remember the Amanda Knox case. I remember all this kind of stuff. Sign me up; I love amnesia as a plot element. (Low level spoilers below the cut. Nothing very plot-specific.)
I won’t say that WITH MALICE completely rocked me off my feet, or surprised me much, or changed the writing game in its genre or anything like that. What we were given is a solid little story about a girl struggling with an event she knows doesn’t sound anything like her or her friend…and the mounting levels of evidence that prove her wrong. I can only imagine how Jill feels in these moments. If I woke up in the middle of a hospital, my leg broken and who knows what else wrong with me, and someone told me I’d killed my best friend…I’d deny it. Why would I do that? Sure, we’ve had a few falling-outs, but nothing major. Nothing to want to kill her. Absolutely not.
Jill goes through the same thing. In addition to all of that, it’s nice to see the author actually walk us through the process that Jill would have to do: therapy, both physical and mental, the mild aphasia that can come with the type of trauma she’s endured, and the constant doubting when trying to determine what was real and what wasn’t.
My real trouble with any of this is that I agree too much with Jill: her story doesn’t seem believable. This is a young woman headed for the best of the best for college, someone completely focused on her studies, who wants to travel abroad to see museums instead of beaches. And yet I am supposed to believe that she lands in Italy, immediately falls in love with this stunning and manipulative Italian tour guide, and utterly throws her trip, her friendship, and her freaking brain out the window for it? Not sure I’m sold. I was a kid focused on my studies in school. I didn’t go boy-crazy (though I did have some crushes). And I’ve traveled abroad and met some dazzlingly attractive men. There is not a person in the world who would make me act this way to my best friend. Not then, not now, not ever. (I got your back, Kira.) I cannot for the life of me understand how this could be possible in the least.
The Italian flame is two-dimensional and uninteresting, particularly with how his part in all this begins to play out. Simone is two-sided to an extent I find hard to believe Jill never saw it, Jill alternates between hell-bent on action and utter despair, neither of the parents are helpful in the slightest, and I want to throw her lawyer out a window. Jill’s roommate is one of the only characters I find remotely interesting, so it’s nice to have here around to balance some of the chaos around her.
I found the ending incredibly unsatisfying. I understand that with the possibility of false memories from the amnesia, a clear-cut ending would have been unlikely. However, the “memory” we are presented with–and the one Jill seems to accept as the probable truth–contradicts everything we’ve seen from the character thus far. The calm she approaches this with as well is unfathomable. Possible? Maybe. Disappointing? Absolutely.
Despite it all, I did enjoy the book. The usage of newspaper articles, text transcriptions, emails, and other such devices as alternate ways to show pieces of the story was extremely well-utilized. Very reminiscent of UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE, another book I enjoy immensely. It’s a quick read, and a good one for a low-level thrill and some amnesia excitement.
Rating: *** (Worth a Look)
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