When Nancy Luo’s former best friend Jamie Ruan, the top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, Nancy is shocked. She’s even more shocked when Jamie is found dead. The police suspect murder, and Nancy and her three friends become the prime suspects-thanks to The Proctor, someone set on publicly incriminating them via the school’s social media app. The quartet used to be Jamie’s closest friends – and she knew dangerous secrets about each of them that could ruin their reputations as the other top- ranking students. For Nancy, the stakes are even higher, because unlike her wealthy friends, she could lose her full ride scholarship, too. As the group struggles to dear their names while maintaining their perfect GPAS, they race to uncover Jamie’s true killer-before the Proctor exposes al of their darkest secrets. But Nancy can’t help but suspect that one of her friends is lying. Or is there a missing piece in her own memory that could expose the truth-not just about Jamie’s fate, but also about herself?
I don’t know how long I’ve been excited for this book, but it has to have been for a very long time. Maybe even since the deal announcement? The point is, I’ve been looking forward to this book for awhile. Katie is a gem and it sounded incredible. A group of four friends tries to uncover the true murderer of their former friend, while trying to keep their own secrets safe and maintain their perfect GPAs. It sounded like it would be a thrill of a thriller, and I couldn’t wait to read it! Trigger warnings: abuse, self-harm, violence, parental neglect, panic attacks, drug use, mental illness, an inappropriate student/teacher relationship, racism, suicidal thoughts
This book was just as good as I was hoping it would be.
There were things about this book that I didn’t completely fall in love with. The murder mystery on the surface was enough to keep my entertained, but I’m so finicky when it comes to thrillers. But when I look at what was done underneath everything, at the message this book is trying provoke and tell, I can’t help but be in awe of it. Because it portrays that so well. It’s so much more than just a thriller. It’s about the highly competitive nature of schools, about the ignorance surrounding mental health in students, about the burden students of color feel they have to carry, about the fire that burns within some people, the yearning to come out on top. It’s a book about how we fall apart, how we’re pushed to falling apart, and how we can pull others down with us.
Alright, onto the writing, because this writing was made this book feel like it did and made it as effective as it was. Zhao’s writing felt blunt, stark, and to the point. It doesn’t flower and it doesn’t hide behind unnecessary language. That doesn’t mean there aren’t beautifully crafted sentences and phrases that are going to stick with me for a long time though. This book busted down the door to make a point, and the writing reflects that.
I did not expect to fall in love with Nancy as much as I did, and I didn’t realize I fell so hard until I finished the book. There a fire in her. A determination that sweeps into desperation is inside her, driving her. She carries so much, so much weight, so many expectations, so much want. There’s a darkness that lurks in her, and wow, was it something to see it flash behind her eyes from time to time.
I also really, really liked the other three characters that made up Nancy’s friend group. They all carry that determination that sweeps into desperation, but it shows itself in different ways. The pressure affects everyone in different ways.
This book was wrench to the heart, a gut punch, a horrifying, but stark read. It’s deals with such painful topics, which makes for an incredibly painful book. But it’s so good at the same time.