Cartwheel, by Jennifer DuBois (2013)

Genre: Mystery
Interest Level: Adult
CartwheelInspired by the real-life drama of Amanda Knox, this mystery explores the boundaries between truth and lies, between guilt and innocence, and how these lines are criss-crossed as those involved try to figure out what actually happened. The book opens as Lily Hayes is arrested for murder in Buenos Aires, where she is spending a semester hoping to improve her Spanish and learn more about the world that excites and intrigues her. She arrives in January to live with a host family, and soon her roommate arrives – the beautiful Katy with straight teeth and a studious lifestyle that soon bores and irritates Lily. She remains polite, but shares her exasperation in emails, status updates and phone calls. Five weeks later, Katy is dead, and Lily is in jail. The Argentine media speculation focuses on the young American student whose behaviour is characterized as bizarre, cold, and indecent. Lily’s family arrives offer support and try to piece together what happened, and the facts begin to emerge through flashbacks told from various characters’ perspectives, including multiple “truths” about troubling details that cloud the picture. Unfortunately, this structure means none of the characters is fully developed, and it prevents the reader from building any sympathy for Lily or her odd lover Sebastian, and certainly not for Katy. It feels like a scientist’s study of specimens in an experiment – strangely passionless in such a passionate country. My interest was finally piqued at about the halfway mark, as it became clear the truth of what happened was simply not going to be revealed until the end, if at all. DuBois doesn’t quite succeed at what I think was her goal of exploring how we can never truly know another person, no matter how much we want to. And this barrier is what causes us to often misinterpret motivations, even for actions as ingenuous as a cartwheel. I like the idea of it, but the execution unfortunately falls short.
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