Review: Cartwheel

October 9, 2013 Whitney Review 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: CartwheelCartwheel by Jennifer duBois
Published by Random House on September 24, 2013
Genres: General Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley

Written with the riveting storytelling and moral seriousness of authors like Emma Donoghue, Adam Johnson, Ann Patchett, and Curtis Sittenfeld, Cartwheel is a suspenseful and haunting novel of an American foreign exchange student arrested for murder, and a father trying to hold his family together.

When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colorful buildings, the street food, the handsome, elusive man next door. Her studious roommate Katy is a bit of a bore, but Lily didn’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 alternately sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her: the media, her family, the man who loves her and the man who seeks her conviction. With mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Cartwheel offers a prismatic investigation of the ways we decide what to see—and to believe—in one another and ourselves.

Jennifer duBois’s debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program. In Cartwheel, duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. Who is Lily Hayes? What happened to her roommate? No two readers will agree. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how much we really know about ourselves will linger well beyond.

I have always been interested in true crime.  Some may call it a sickness.  I’m an avid watcher of  the Investigation Discovery channel and have also followed such cases as Casey Anthony, Natalee Holloway, and Amanda Knox.  The premise of Jennifer Dubois’ novel Cartwheel seemed reminiscent of Amanda Knox, thus piquing my interest.

At first, and despite it being a work of fiction, I had a hard time getting into Cartwheel as the similarities between it and the Amanda Knox trial were too great.  It took me a while but I finally got over the “this is the Amanda Knox trial” and see it for what it was, a wonderfully written character study.

Cartwheel was an enjoyable read.  The characters were well-developed and exhibited the emotions one may feel while going through such a horrific ordeal.  A father’s desperation to save his daughter from an unbearable fate, a sister constantly left in the shadows of her “perfect” older sister and the slow descent of a girl who got more than she bargained for.  Not to be forgotten is the shady boyfriend who I felt had a devil and angel on each shoulder and the prosecutor who gave a “Law and Order” vibe to the book.  While these descriptions are brief, duBois spends ample time on each character in Cartwheel giving a well-rounded view of all those involved.

I had an idea where the plot could lead, but I found the trail created by  Jennifer duBois intriguing.  Through multiple points of view, Lily Hayes’ character is slowly revealed with explanations for her DNA being found in key elements.  The explanation of the knife and bra clasp are effortlessly inserted into the storyline, with only the reader ever really knowing, giving a leg up or jubilant feeling of a five-year-old “I know something you don’t know”.  Thus, while perhaps a little predictable, the author threw in enough curve balls to keep me on my toes.

Cartwheel was well paced until we reach the ending.  While I was satisfied with the conclusion I felt the plot was a little rushed and wished it had slowed down a little.  Overall, Cartwheel was an enthralling read, but with the Amanda Knox undertones I did feel like I was reading a rehashed headline.


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