Jennifer duBois’ Cartwheel was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Cosmopolitan and BookPage. Read on for my review of this psychological thriller.
Cartwheel Book Synopsis
An American foreign-exchange student arrested for murder. A desperate father determined to win her freedom. The brilliant lawyer tasked with her prosecution. And the sphinx-like young man who happens to be her only alibi.
When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colourful buildings, the street food, the elusive guy next door. Her studious roommate, Katy, is a bit of a bore, but Lily hasn’t come to Argentina to hang out with other Americans.
Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered in their shared home, and Lily is the prime suspect. But who is Lily Hayes? It depends on who’s asking. As the case takes shape – revealing deceptions, secrets, and suspicious DNA – Lily appears alternatively sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her.
With mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Jennifer duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how well we really know one another – and ourselves – will linger well beyond.
Genre: Literature, Thriller, Drama, Crime-Detective, Mystery
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
I thought Jennifer duBois’ debut novel A Partial History of Lost Causes was “an outstanding literary achievement – heartbreakingly sad and startlingly beautiful”. It featured in my Best Books of 2012 list. So it was with much anticipation and very high expectations that I embarked upon her second offering Cartwheel.
Katy retreated down the steps. Her beauty was so austere, so forbidding; there was something hard about it, as though she’d been chiseled from some rare mineral — whereas Lily seemed somehow organic, naturally arising.
I think Entertainment Weekly summed it up perfectly when they described Jennifer duBois’ latest work as “a tabloid tragedy elevated to high art”. While featuring duBois’ signature mastery of the English language, although loosely based on the much publicised Amanda Knox trial Cartwheel is much more about the psychology of such an event than the event itself.
Unsentimental narrative impact
duBois’ key strength is her ability to pen unsentimental narrative and hand the baton of judgement squarely to her audience. This almost brutal approach to storytelling heightens its resonance and impact on the reader. One cannot simply sit on the sidelines; one must consider what their own reactions would be in such circumstances, and more broadly how their everyday actions might be perceived should they ever be put under scrutiny to such a degree.
Everything he really needed to know was in the pictures. In the pictures, the ease with which Lily Hayes floated through the universe was ruinously apparent; there simply was not a frisson of friction between her desires and their arrival. Arise, world! she seemed to say. Part, seas! Reveal yourself, Buenos Aires, and let me take your picture! On the camera was a picture of a woman with a blood-coloured lesion on her face, clearly taken on the sly. There was a picture of a tiny pants-less boy. There was a picture of Lily Hayes herself, giving an exaggerated thumbs-up as she points to her bug bites. Here, Eduardo saw, was a person without humility. And Eduardo believed that humility, more than anything, was the basis for morality.
I felt little connection to either the accused or the victim (I wonder what that says about my character? Or perhaps that is the instinctive ambivalence duBois’ is seeking to highlight in all of us?). I found myself having more empathy towards Lily Hayes’ parents and younger sister, as they struggled with their own insecurities and sense of powerlessness, both in this situation and in life more generally.
While for me Cartwheel does not quite reach the lofty heights of A Partial History of Lost Causes (perhaps due to its subject matter), it once again displays Jennifer duBois’ exceptional talents as a writer and for observing the kaleidoscopic human psyche.
Cartwheel is a chilling introspective psychological thriller that will quietly haunt you long after the final page.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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About the Author, Jennifer duBois
Jennifer duBois was born in Northampton, MA in 1983. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, duBois’ work has appeared in Playboy, the Wall Street Journal, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, Narrative and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was published by The Dial Press in 2012, and was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program. In her spare time, duBois enjoys reading tales of disaster on Everest and smugly reminding everyone that she has a subscription to the Economist. Check out her website.
* Receiving this title free from Scribe Publications did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions above.
This giveaway is open only to those with Australian and New Zealand mailing addresses. The winner of this giveaway will be selected at random and will receive a paperback copy of Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois from Scribe Publications.
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SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED – The winner is Shannon @ Giraffe Days.