I love true crime tv. When I’m in a funk, you can catch me on the couch watching Dateline reruns like my life depends on it. Certainly, it doesn’t make much sense to spend days when I feel down watching super depressing and often disturbing shows about people killing each other, but it’s just a thing I do.
Despite this, I’ve never liked thrillers — books or movies. I like the factual cleanness of Dateline, the outsider perspective that allows me to be comfortably situated so I don’t have to wait in agonizing suspense, because often we know how it ends before it begins. I don’t like horror films, jumpscares, or the crescendo of violins as the drama unfolds before my eyes. It’s just too much.
Still, the YA book world was talking a lot about Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House. The cover was so enthralling I couldn’t help myself, so I decided to give it a chance. It seemed safe to start my venture into thrillers with a YA title.
This book is not for the faint of heart. Don’t be tricked into thinking that you can get through the thrill part of the novel in order to read a romance by someone who notoriously writes good romances (I’ve never personally read any of Perkins’ other novels, but I’ve heard a lot about Anna and the French Kiss). If you don’t like gore, violence, or anything vaguely murder-y, then you should probably pass on this one.
The plot of the novel is not far off base from the typical slasher film: high schoolers are murdered with violence and intimacy and no one knows who’s to blame or what the pattern is. It follows Makani Young, who has recently arrived from Hawaii following some vague incident in her past in the wake of her parents divorce, as she and her friends deal with the unbelievable violence against their peers amidst normal high school drama. She falls in love with Ollie Larsson, the school outcast, as the killer strikes closer and closer to home.
The novel opens with the first murder, and the thrill of that first scene was amazing. I was on edge. Then the chapter was over and the thrill and threat of the premise vanished for almost 100 pages before the murder plotline returned to the forefront. The first portion of the novel is more focused on the ridiculous teen romance dance between Ollie and Makani as they try to figure out if they like each other. Personally, I’m not a fan of teen romances, but this one felt even more bland than most. Ollie was, frankly, boring and meagerly developed, and Makani was vaguely stalkerish regarding him. I liked the scenes involving her friends Alex and Darby, and I really liked her grandmother. Otherwise, I wasn’t a huge fan of Makani or Ollie or anyone else in the narrative. We’re kept at arm’s length from the victims of the serial killer, which I feel reduces a lot of the emotional pull. The murders, then, become more about the violence of the act than anything else. Perkins does allow them some personality in the chapters where they die by framing them from their point of view, but since these characters barely interact with Makani and the others, it doesn’t quite make sense. It becomes confusing why the narrative is focused on Makani, when perhaps another character would be more connected to the serial killer plot. Other victims aren’t introduced in person until they’re killed.
I think probably the most effective part of this novel is the methodology of the serial killer. They break into the houses of their victims beforehand, sometimes weeks in advance, and begin moving their personal items around. This is brilliant and terrifying. By doing this, the killer is tricking the victims into doubting their own sanity as well as invading their personal spaces. I found myself vaguely freaked out when I finished the book and caught myself more than once looking over my shoulder!
Overall, I felt this novel was a little disappointing. Makani is haunted by some event in her past that made her flee her beloved Hawaii for the cornfields of Nebraska. The reveal is really a big ole let down. It’s not worth the build up and frankly, is kind of silly in the face of the real danger they’re facing. Similarly, the killer is revealed about half way through the novel, and not only is it not someone immediately identifiable, but his choice of victims and the reasons for those choices make almost no sense. It feels half-assed, as if Perkins was in a rush and couldn’t think up anything more reasonable. The second half of the novel is caught in this weird vaguely tense and not-tense situation since the killer is on the run. The police force in this novel is truly pathetic. With the town being as small as it is, it seems like someone could have caught the killer long before his final murderous rampage, but that’s probably beside the point. Also, a favorite character is killed and hardly gets a sentence of memoriam before the novel moves back to the sub-par romance. It was disappointing: who the killer was, why they were killing, how they were dealt with, and how others were treated in the face of the romance storyline.
So overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed. It satisfied my one-sitting read challenge for the Bookriot Read Harder Challenge, but that’s pretty much the only pro for this novel. The murder scenes were great but weren’t paced appropriately. Everything else just sort of fell short of the novel’s promise at the start, which is a bummer, but oh well!
I think I’ll move along to true crime….
Do you read thrillers?