Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas
Overview: A murder from a generation ago still haunts a rural Kentucky town. Two families that might as well be the Capulets and the Montagues are at the center, stirring drama through the town. When the alleged murderer's daughter and the victim's son form an unbreakable friendship and new evidence comes to life, the town gets torn up again over the controversy. Overall: 5+++
Characters: 5 I am so in love with every single character this book- and there are quite a few. Kalyn Spence is the daughter of a murderer. Her mother married her father when he was already behind bars. She's been in the center of controversy her entire life. She's a bit jaded, but she's so self assured. She's fierce and stunning and soft, and I would read a million books with Kalyn Spence at the helm.
Gus is the son of the victim, his father from the famous Ellis family. Gus was supposed to carry on the heroic legacy, but his grandfather is horrible and cuts his family out when Gus's mom comes out as lesbian and Gus has Cerebral Palsy. They aren't the golden family by Grandpa Ellis's standards. But Gus has always lived in a world surrounded by images of his father's seventeen years. He lives in a tomb of lies and old stories.
His best friend Phil has antisocial personality disorder and communicates mostly through Shakespeare's best quotes. He's endearing and genuinely wants the best for Kalyn and Gus even if he can't relate in the same as other people.
The parents are also amazing additions to the story. The teachers, the parents, the other town members have such a rich history and web of secrets. They are also so well fleshed out and complete. So much of YA shies away from the adults, but Thomas takes it head on and makes the book so much better for it.
Plot: 5 This book... I don't even know where to start with unpacking how amazing this story is. There are so many perfect twists and turns that make this book impossible to put down. If you're interested in things like true crime but don't want the terrifying, spine tingling aspect of a thriller, this is the perfect solution as the murder is set so far in the past but has fossilized the town making it feel so immediate.
Writing: 5 I don't know where to start with praising Thomas's writing. Her dual (and sometimes a third) POV format works so beautifully to bring the book to life. The voices are so distinct that you'll be able to immediately tell who's talking. This is even true for the most minute of side characters.
The self awareness in the most perfect way also adds to the book. The tropes that get played with and addressed here are amazing. The idea of casting your life as a movie, the manic pixie dream girl archetype and many others are addressed head on and crushed in the most spectacular way. It also holds teens in a serious and respected light without breaking the realities of how the world works. They launch the crusade for justice, and they wake the town up, but they're not saviors, and they're not able to save the day without outside support.
The mystery is also so perfect and involved. There are tiny clues, but I doubt you'll be able to solve it before the duo!
Also, as a side note, I love that she gives the My Favorite Murder podcast a shout out in thee acknowledgments!
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