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Review: With Malice by Eileen Cook

When Jill Charron opens her eyes, she finds herself in a hospital bed, fresh from unconsciousness. She is told that she was involved in a car accident in Italy, and that she was jettisoned back to the United States by a friend of her father’s. Jill can’t remember a thing, and in fact, she is missing the last six weeks of her life. As if losing her memory wasn’t bad enough, it is revealed that Jill’s best friend, Simone, was also in the car -- but Jill is the only one who survived.

Soon, Jill is not only participating in physical therapy, but also in police interviews. Social media posts, interview dockets, and news reports scattered throughout the narrative suggest that the car accident that left Jill lost and broken and that took Simone’s life may not have been an accident after all – it may have been an act of murder.

As a big fan of thrillers and murder mysteries since young adulthood, I had high expectations for With Malice by Eileen Cook, and I’m happy to say that this is one of the best YA thrillers I’ve read! Unreliable narrators are very intriguing because the reader is often left discovering things right alongside them, instead of relying on them for a solid background or foreshadowing. Jill is a sympathetic character, and while she isn’t afraid to show how smart she is (she did get into Yale after all), she is also not afraid to be vulnerable. I can't imagine how devastating it would be to lose your memory over any amount of time. At 17 years old, six weeks seems like forever!

As Jill reels from the news of her accident and best friend’s death, she recounts her happy memories with Simone, which are contrasted by postings on social media and interviews with other students who were on the trip to Italy, which reveal that things were decidedly not right between Jill and Simone. Some blame Jill, claiming she resented Simone, and some blame Simone, claiming she cared only for herself and her selfish desires. These “outside looks” were a fascinating part of the book, because they highlight just how prejudiced the media can be, and how they can take things out of context and twist one small comment or an innocent picture into something heinous. This commentary will really make you question our “social justice system.”

As the story progresses, Jill begins to have flashbacks to her time in Italy, which leave her with more questions and more uncertainty than ever. There was a handsome older man, an argument with Simone, and a dramatic scene in a museum. Are these real memories, or only a result of her brain’s desperate attempt to fill in the blanks? Will she ever be able to remember what happened, so she can clear her name and truly mourn her best friend?

When the narrative finally comes to a head, there’s a reveal that will leave you wondering just how real and accurate memories can be, and whether we ever really know the people we call our “best friends” – or more importantly, ourselves. I remember my eyes widening and my mouth forming a little “oh” when I read the last few sentences of the book. Let’s just say that you will question everything you thought you knew or guessed to be true throughout the story.

With Malice is an exciting YA mystery, perfect for fans of Gone Girl or of any story where things are not always what they seem. You'll find it at your favorite bookstore on June 7, 2016!

Special thanks to HMH Books for Young Readers for sending an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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