Synopsis: A read about a teenage girl who wakes up in a hospital bed and cannot remember the last six weeks of her life, including the accident that killed her best friend–only what if the accident wasn’t an accident?
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last 6 weeks should be. She comes to discover she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy three days previous but was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident. Wondering not just what happened but what she did, Jill tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.
WHOA. Okay. I’ll admit, With Malice really threw me for a loop (or twelve). This is not some cushy study-abroad novel with gorgeous Italian scenery. I mean, there is a lot of gorgeous Italian scenery, but that is certainly not the focus of this fast-paced thriller of a contemporary YA.
I’m a huge fan of books with unreliable narrators (because, let’s be real, it’s so much fun to be constantly on your toes while you’re reading a book – I love being surprised by a plot twist), and Eileen Cook does not disappoint here. Jill Charron wakes up in the hospital with no memory of the past six weeks. Soon, she finds out that she was in Italy on a school trip she can no longer remember, and that at some point a car she was driving hit a wall and took a nose dive off a mountain and into the idyllic Tuscan countryside. Not only was she driving, but the accident killed her best friend, Simone, and now everyone seems to think that it was a hasty (and partially unsuccessful) murder-suicide attempt. She needs a lawyer, a rehab therapist, and her memory back… pronto!
I don’t consider myself a huge fan of books like Gone Girl (despite the incredibly unreliable narrators there), because I really hate books where there are no redeemable characters. So I was beyond relieved to find Jill to be an extremely relatable and easy-to-like narrator. Because I didn’t think she was evil, it made the entire premise of the plot that much more intriguing to me. I spent the entire book enthralled by the questions Did she kill her best friend on purpose? And if she did, why did she do it? What could possibly drive such an intelligent, calm, reasonable individual with no history of violence to a breaking point where she would be capable of murdering her best friend of almost a decade?
By the end of the book, I was so invested in knowing what happened that I made my husband stop what he was doing so that I could explain the entire storyline to him and ask him what his opinion was. If she did purposefully cause that accident, did she deserve to go to jail? Are crimes of passion as bad as pre-mediated murder? How much bad can a “good person” do before he/she becomes a “bad person”? and so on and so forth. And that’s what I loved the most about this book. I loved how many questions it raised for me as I was reading. These were serious moral and civil questions, and it really had me thinking. I love a story that can change the way I look at the world, and With Malice certainly did that. I don’t think I’ll ever consider a murder case in the same way.
I saw a couple of reviewers on Goodreads compare this story to the Amanda Knox case a few years ago, which really piqued my interest. I also thought there were a few similarities between Amanda Knox’s case and Jill’s (most notably that the Italian Government tried to extradite both of them after they were back in the US). But honestly, I didn’t think the two cases were similar enough that this was just a “retelling” of that real-life story. I lived in Perugia, Italy (where the Amanda Knox murder happened), so I’ve read and heard a lot about her case (I lived there when the Italian Government was in the middle of trying to extradite her in the light of new evidence). I think that the thing the two stories have the most in common is that they both involved American girls studying abroad. But I was excited to see Perugia get a small shout out in this book!
I also enjoyed all the different ways Eileen chose to tell this story – I liked reading the police transcripts, eye-witness testimonies, blog posts, text messages used as evidence, etc. – it made the story feel so much more well-rounded than it would have if Jill’s had been the only perspective we got. Since her memory was completely unreliable, it was really cool to have some other evidence/stories to sift through so that I could, as the reader, make my own investigation of the evidence and come to my own conclusions about what really happened.
If you love thrilling plots, solving mysteries, or if you just love Italy and want some awesome scenery to make you feel nostalgic about it, With Malice is definitely your cup of tea.
Rating: 4/5 stars