Thursday, 31 August 2017

Review: 'Girl in Snow' by Danya Kukafka

Nothing is more dramatic than high school drama. Except for the real world. And when those two combine with a murder mystery than you're usually in for a good read. So many books bring these three different elements together and weave either magic or sow chaos. The balancing of teenage hormones and horrible crime is difficult and it doesn't always go well. Girl in Snow is a novel that balances on that edge but, sadly, is constantly on the point of falling off. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/08/2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
An addictive debut thriller about the mysterious death of a small-town golden girl and the secret lives of three people connected to her: the social misfit who loved her from afar, the rebellious girl who despised her, and the policeman investigating her death.
As morning dawns in a sleepy Colorado suburb, a dusting of snow covers high school freshman Lucinda Hayes’s dead body on a playground carousel. As accusations quickly spread, Lucinda’s tragic death draws three outsiders from the shadows.
Oddball Cameron Whitley loved—still loves—Lucinda. Though they’ve hardly ever spoken, and any sensible onlooker would call him Lucinda’s stalker, Cameron is convinced that he knows her better than anyone. Completely untethered by the news of her death, Cameron’s erratic behavior provides the town ample reason to suspect that he’s the killer.
Jade Dixon-Burns hates Lucinda. Lucinda took everything from Jade: her babysitting job, and her best friend. The worst part was Lucinda’s blissful ignorance to the damage she’d wrought.
Officer Russ Fletcher doesn’t know Lucinda, but he knows the kid everyone is talking about, the boy who may have killed her. Cameron Whitley is his ex-partner’s son. Now Russ must take a painful journey through the past to solve Lucinda’s murder and keep a promise he made long ago.
Girl in Snow investigates the razor-sharp line between love and obsession and will thrill fans of Everything I Never Told You and Luckiest Girl Alive.Intoxicating and intense, this is a novel you will not be able to put down.
To quote Natalie Imburglia, I'm torn. It is undeniable that Girl in Snow has an intriguing plot with a lot of high stakes. It's also undeniable that Kukafka addresses a lot of interesting topics, as the blurb suggests. The small town struck by tragedy is a great setting to bring underlying tensions to the surface and Kukafka does so relatively well. However, there is something about the book that left me underwhelmed. Perhaps I have been ruined by psychological thrillers and mysteries where suspense lurks on every page, but Girl in Snow didn't capture me the way I really wanted it to.

Lucinda, this novel's sad victim, isn't truly at the centre of this novel. Rather, Kukafka focuses on Jade, Cameron and Russ as they are thrown into ever-deepening turmoil by her death and everything that comes with it. Kukafka explores the trauma of their lives before Lucinda's death and how these now affect their actions, choices, and ideas of self. In a way this is really interesting, but Lucinda therefore also becomes a side-character and about halfway through the novel I realised I didn't really care who killed her. The reader has no chance to build a connection to her and the novel's twists also don't really come from this plot line. Rather it is Jade, Cameron and Russ' lives which provide the reader with their excitement. Switching between their different points of view, Kukafka explores different angles of this small town's response to Lucinda's death, as well as showing how everyone has secrets, fears and hopes, how we all keep certain parts of ourselves hidden away. It is this that saves the novel, for me at least.

Danya Kukafka has a knack for describing emotional situations in a way that both places you inside the characters' minds while also removing you just enough to be able to appreciate the moment. You truly get a sense of who her characters are and what they feel, and this is the most interesting part of Girl in Snow. Occasionally the novel "breaks" its narrative to share excerpts from Jade's imagined screenplay, 'What You Want to Say But Can't Without Being a Dick'. This both works really well to give you an insight into Jade's mind and set up that everyone has thoughts they don't or can't share, but it also interrupts the tension Kukafka tries to build and snaps the reader out of the story. In a way it's emblematic of what didn't work for the novel. There are a lot of great ideas but the execution of them isn't always perfect. This also counts for the confusing mix of genres. On the one hand this novel is a murder mystery and crime novel, yet the pace is inexorably slow and halts Girl in Snow from truly building up momentum. Considering this is a debut novel that isn't necessarily surprising but it is promising. I'd rather have a book with great potential than an utterly boring yet beautiful one. As such, I would definitely give Kukafka's future books a try.

I give this book...

2 Universes.

I have very mixed feelings about Girl in Snow. On the one hand I really wanted to know how it would end, how it would all unravel. But on the other hand I never found myself truly engaged with the novel, truly caught by it. I'm confused as to who to recommend this to, since for crime lovers this novel won't deliver. Its pace may also be too slow for YA readers. Yes, I'm torn.

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