No morning routine for janitor Ivan: on his tour around the high school premises he finds the body of Lucinda Hayes, golden girl and now dead. It does not take long to identify possible murders: Ivan first of all, it hasn’t been long since he’s out of prison. Cameron Whitley, the boy from next door who has been stalking Lucinda for quite some time. Jade Dixon-Burns, a slightly overweight outsider who openly hated Lucinda. Mr O. the art teacher who was seen with Lucinda’s diary. Officer Russ Fletcher’s first murder case comes to a very bad moment, his wedding is all but ok and additionally, Ivan is his wife’s brother and Cameron his former partner’s son. How can he objectively investigate this case?
Danya Kukafka has chosen a well-known topic for her debut novel: the murder of the popular teenage girl. Even though many have written about this, she manages to create something new and singular. She provides us with the narrators who tell the story from their point of view and thus slowly unfolds the tragedy of all the three of them – it is not that much the victim herself whom we feel sorry for in the end but much more those three. The author succeeds in creating outstanding characters who really have to tell a story which I found actually from one point on much more interesting than the question who committed the deed.
Let’s start with Jade. From the outside she seems to be the hateful reclusive teenager who is difficult to love due to her negative attitude. Yet, behind this surface, we find a thoughtful girl who has experienced domestic violence, who has to work several jobs in her free time and who lost her best friend Zap to Lucinda. They were really really close, almost could read each other’s thoughts but when they get older and the interest in the opposite sex arises, Zap rejects her mercilessly and in a most offending way which leaves scars forever. Jade has never been popular, often was the victim of bullying, but this rejection breaks something in her. And makes her especially sensitive for other people’s emotions.
Russ, on the other hand, is caught in a conflict. He has a bad conscience for what he has done years before – he always backed his partner, even when he knew that this was not right and when in doing so he was hurting others, especially Cameron and his mother. Is this the point to correct a mistake? However, his mind is also dancing around his wife Inés and how he never really understood her. Do they actually know each other? He doesn’t have a clue about her past in Mexico and doesn’t know how she spends her days. He wanted to make her happy and give her the chance to stay in the USA, but can this, what they have, still be called love? Was it ever love?
Last comes Cameron. He is strange and odd. He is talented in drawing but his obsession with Lucinda is not only weird but morbid. He observes her, spends hours in the evening and night outside her house looking into her window. He even breaks into the Hayes’ house one night and watches her sleeping. He is a bit creepy, but he is also the boy whose police officer father was accused of murder a couple of years back and who has been living only with his mother. As soon as the suspicion falls on him, everybody remembers what his father was suspected of. Cameron does not know what his father has done or hasn’t, but he strongly fears that there is something bad running in his veins. This keeps him from thinking clearly in this situation. And the fact that he has seen the body, doesn’t help to rescue him from being the prime suspect for the reader, too.
The development of those three narrators who tell the story alternatingly gives the novel much more depth than I had expected. Apart from the big question of who is the murder, there are many smaller questions circling around the characters which keep the suspense constantly high. It is not a typical murder novel you cannot put aside due to the high pace and high suspense, no, it rather slowly unfolds and provides you with a complex psychological network of emotions and memories.