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Complicit

Review

Complicit

Award-winning author Stephanie Kuehn's second novel, COMPLICIT, keeps readers guessing about what --- and whom --- to believe, right up to the final page.

Stephanie Kuehn's debut novel CHARM & STRANGE has received a number of critical accolades, including the 2014 Morris Award presented by the American Library Association for the best debut novel written for a young adult audience. Since publication of her incredibly intense debut, people have been wondering what the talented Kuehn would do next. Now we have the answer: a complex, artfully ambiguous novel that explores the tortured grip the past can have on the present.

Jamie Henry and his older sister Cate had a pretty rocky childhood; their single mother died when she was shot accidentally --- or murdered— putting an end to the kids' unstable home life. But what happened next seems to be about as good as it gets --- instead of being placed in separate foster homes, the two kids are adopted by a wealthy couple who have recently lost their own school-aged children in a car accident. Cate immediately responds positively to this new environment of affection and privilege, but Jamie has a more difficult time coping. He becomes seriously withdrawn, pulls hair out of her eyebrows and loses whole chunks of his memory. Only when he starts seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants is he able to function and even thrive in his new environment.

those who enjoy ambiguity, narrative and moral complexity and discussion-worthy endings will have plenty to mull over in Kuehn's latest.

As the siblings reach adolescence, however, Cate becomes the troubled one: dressing provocatively, drinking and taking drugs and possibly hypnotizing other girls to humiliate them. She even commits a crime so terrible that it lands her in juvenile detention. Jamie blames Cate's behavior for a lot of his lingering problems, not to mention the loss of his best friend, who just can't feel the same about him after what Cate did.

But now it's two years later, and Cate is about to get out of detention. Jamie dreads her return, dreads the kind of hold she has on him and the power she has to make his life miserable. He has a new girlfriend, one who doesn't know all about his family's crazy history, and he'd like to keep it that way. But as Cate gets closer, Jamie begins to regress into the same kinds of troubling behavior --- patchy eyebrows, numb hands, missing memories --- that plagued him when he was much younger. What is bringing about these troublesome developments? And should Jamie be more scared of Cate --- or of himself?

COMPLICIT is one of those novels that will keep readers scratching their heads as they try to figure out what --- and whom --- to believe. Jamie, who narrates the novel, begins to question his sanity and the reliability of his memory, and his disorientation and confusion is artfully mirrored in the reader's own. Readers who want a tidy ending might want to look elsewhere, but those who enjoy ambiguity, narrative and moral complexity and discussion-worthy endings will have plenty to mull over in Kuehn's latest.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 25, 2014

Complicit
by Stephanie Kuehn

  • Publication Date: March 15, 2016
  • Genres: Psychological Thriller
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 125004460X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250044600