With Malice by Eileen Cook
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My Rating: ★★★★☆
Imagine waking up one day in a hospital without any recollection of how you got there, and no sooner finding out that you are missing six weeks worth of your memory including the four weeks you had spent on a trip abroad to Italy with your best friend. All because of a car accident you were involved in. Now imagine all of this, and imagine wanting nothing more than to just have your best friend by your side to comfort you, to make you feel better and normal again…but then imagine, after all the trauma you had supposedly already been through, hearing the news that your best friend was in that car accident with you and you were the only one who had made it out alive. Not only is your one and only best friend now gone, you are also faced with the problem that the car accident may not be an accident after all. This was the new complicated reality in the life of Miss Jill Charron, the 18-year-old main character of a very gripping novel, With Malice— undoubtedly inspired by the Amanda Knox trial—by Eileen Cook.
When I started With Malice, I was planning to read only a chapter or two. But alas, that was not the case. I ended up finishing it in less than 24 hours. I was hooked right away. The one unique thing that kept me interested throughout this novel is that there really is only one narrator: the main character herself, Jill Charron. All the other supporting characters are introduced through statement transcripts from interviews with the police involved in the case, or Facebook statuses and as well as comments from blogs and websites and even news/TV show interviews. By doing this, I felt more involved in the plot as a reader. It felt like I was part of the story itself as opposed to someone who was merely looking in from the outside. I thought this approach in telling the story of Jill Charron and her best friend Simone McIvory was quite brilliant.
When I read a crime mystery novel where the readers aren’t meant to know what happened, I expect the author to keep me guessing; I expect to be on my toes and speculating “who really dun it.” I think Ms. Cook did an excellent job of this. I think the book gave out enough information for me to be curious and form my own speculations, but just enough that I was still unsure of my own guesses and insights of what might have really happened. One moment I was thinking this might have been what happened, and the next I was thinking that might have been what happened. I appreciate it when an author doesn’t make it too easy for the readers to find out how the story is going to unfold in the end.
Aside from enjoying the format in which this novel is told, I also couldn’t help but feel frustrated (and sometimes even angry) just as the main character was also frustrated and angry at her own situation. Not being able to recollect important details of your life, let alone your last weeks with your own best friend, would for sure shake any one up. Jill’s feelings felt real to me and I think Ms. Cook was able to project her character’s feelings to the readers very nicely.
Another thing that I think Ms. Cook did well with this book is address (whether she knew that she was doing this or not, I can’t be sure) what is called “Chinese whispers” or as more commonly known in the United States—”the telephone game.” The telephone game is a game played around the world where a big group of people gather around in a circle. One person will whisper whatever message to the person next to them, and that person will whisper to the next person what was whispered to them, and so on. When the message has reached the last person in the circle, said person is to say out loud what the message is for all to hear. That message is then compared to the original message that was whispered by the very first person in the circle, and usually—not surprising enough—the “final” message is usually very inaccurate compared to the original. The point of the game is to show how rumours and/or gossip is spread around. As the message gets passed around, one person may alter an information and etc. With Malice is one of the many great examples of how stories are easily manipulated and twisted by others. This novel also addresses the fact that a lot of young adults or teenagers are prone to these rumours (and as well as bullying, as you’ll find out how in the book).
In conclusion, I enjoyed that the tension was built from the beginning of the book up until the very end. With Malice will have you guessing and forming your own speculations from left and right. You’ll want to believe one thing in one chapter, and believe another thing once you get to the next. You’ll perhaps also find yourself questioning your own morals and ethics and pondering exactly what “justice” is to you and the measures that need to be taken under certain circumstances. If you’re looking for a quick read that will have you on the edge of your seat, then look no further.