Friendship, Wisconsin is your average small town. Everyone knows everyone, and people are generally friendly. It’s a safe place until high schooler Ruth Fried is found murdered in a gruesome way in the middle of a cornfield. What was once a peaceful place is rocked to its core in the aftermath of the murder. Especially in the case of Kippy Bushman, who was Ruth’s best friend. So imagine her horror when the local police seem content with the first suspect that comes along, despite evidence–including Ruth’s salacious diary–to the contrary. So it’s up to her to solve her friend’s murder and avenge her death.
Kathleen Hale’s ambitious debut YA novel doesn’t quite reach its goals, but it’s not for lack of trying. Combining elements of suspense, mystery, and satire, this novel’s aims are high, but it stumbles more often than it soars, to borrow a terribly trite phrase. Although there’s some genuinely good stuff here–Kippy is a memorable character in all her awkwardness, and some of the secondary characters are diverting–it isn’t enough to keep this novel from getting bogged down in its own plot.
That is, perhaps, the novel’s greatest problem. The pacing is off throughout this twisty mystery because there’s too much plot thrown in. An abundance of red herrings can certainly keep readers guessing, but when the plot goes down one dead-ends and side-stories, the result is a slow mess. In fact, Kippy’s venture into an institution threatens to derail the entire story. Where was the editor on this?
A skewering of mid-west culture is at times spot on (potluck, bratwurst, etc) and at other times woefully overdone (this reader could have done with far less of the “don’tcha knows”). Is this Fargo or is this a novel for teens? At any rate, some readers won’t be tripped up by the stalling plot, but others will just want Kippy to get on with it already.
Disappointing, but it’s clear that the DNA of the story had serious promise. Hale will be an author to watch.
No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale. HarperTeen: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.