Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: Delicate Monsters - Stephanie Kuehn

Release Date: June 9, 2015
Source: Netgalley
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin

Delicate Monsters - Stephanie Kuehn
Delicate Monsters - Stephanie Kuehn | Goodreads

From the Morris-Award winning author of Charm & Strange, comes a twisted and haunting tale about three teens uncovering dark secrets and even darker truths about themselves.

When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.

Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.

Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.

But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs.

What happens when you take three self-destructive, morally grey people and force them to interact with each other? A high stakes psychological thriller from Stephanie Kuehn, potentially her best work yet.

What I enjoy the most about turning to a Stephanie Kuehn novel is that I'm always given the sense that she is in control of this story. It's a strange thing to mention over and over; but there are some books with extraneous details, some books when I'm crossing things out in my head as I'm reading (and wondering what the point of X and X truly is). This will never happen with a Kuehn novel. She's a wordsmith through and through, and she keeps her novels taut with tension and her writing tight so that the thriller elements are well and truly highlighted.

For her other novels, I've read reviews suggesting that some plot elements are predictable. Well, not so for me, and particularly not at all for this novel. I think this is where the fact that Kuehn used a third person perspective came in handy. Furthermore, instead of one unreliable perspective, we now have three. All those elements together make the past and future events that much more unpredictable. Still, even knowing that these PoVs are unreliable doesn't stop you from caring about the characters -- or if not about them, at least what they will do or what lays in store for them. Kuehn excels at making their voices not only distinct but also compelling (definitely didn't expect to ever feel empathetic towards a sociopath but wow, what.). I also think that these additional perspectives allowed for greater character complexity in the side cast, as each character has something different to say about, say, Mr. Su or Mrs. Tate. This is why I say that Delicate Monsters may be Kuehn's best work yet. The pacing is just as fast as her other novels, and the climax action-packed and full of tension and the best sort of satisfying character and plot reveals.... and now we've got added character complexity and unpredictability. Delicate monsters, indeed.

Another thing that I really appreciate about Kuehn's novels is that she's handling very real issues. Her books aren't all about mentally ill characters - there's criticism on race, parenting, class, etc. But, most of all, she gives mentally ill people a voice. Whenever I've read a sociopathic character, it's generally been in the form of a villain. What easier way to create a villain than someone who doesn't care about harming other people, right? Taking on the challenge of creating a compelling, 3D sociopathic character is hard -- and yet, Kuehn does this with ease. Her books are so, so discussable - and not just for their take on mental health but also on other issues.

I can only hope that a writer as talented as Kuehn will always have a place for her stories to be published. I'll certainly be coming back for more.

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