Everything You Want Me to BeEverything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

from the publisher:

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to her death.

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

there are people who will read that synopsis of this book and understand where the story is going just by the list of voiced characters. and then there are people who will only register what’s written there without clocking the subtext. there’s no right-or-wrong, better-or-worse distinction between the two groups; it’s just a quirk of perception. i am in the former group, because my brain automatically registers likely scenarios, just like it effortlessly solves word jumbles or dominates at boggle <— which is definitely a better-or-worse distinction – do not come at me with boggle; you will be defeated.

long, rambly, bogglebraggy* preamble just to say that what i consider spoilers and what other people consider spoilers will differ, but since most of the reviews up here so far seem to be dodging a plot point that isn’t explicitly stated in the synopsis, but which i’d considered a given before reading it, i will err on the side of caution, since i hate people yelling at me over the spoiler issue.

review starts…NOW!

this is damn good. it’s a murder mystery, but even more than that, it’s a fantastic character study of hattie hoffman – a girl from a small midwestern town who learned the art of manipulation at a very early age, and by the time she turns eighteen, it has become as natural as breathing to her. “manipulation” may be too loaded of a word – she’s not a sociopath; in fact, her manipulations are frequently grounded in empathetic concerns – she has an impressive knack for perceiving what will be most pleasing or attractive to each person in her life, and she chameleons into that personality for their benefit, while suppressing her more natural impulses. her friends, her parents, her teachers, her co-workers all see an idealized version of her; tailor-made for them. but that kind of constant self-regulation is exhausting, and when hattie finds something she wants more than anything else, she uses her considerable talents to construct her most intricate persona yet, and she is doing exactly what she wants for the first time in her life. and then she is brutally murdered.

the three voices driving the story are hattie’s (before her death – there’s no ghostie narrative here), sheriff del goodman, who is heading the murder investigation, and hattie’s english teacher mr. lund; both men who knew a different version of hattie.

i mean, obviously this sounds a little twin peaksy; a small town setting where everyone knows everything about everybody and yet discover they knew not one thing about the popular girl revealed to be full of secrets after her murder. however, hattie’s secrets, while not inconsequential, do not come anywhere near the seedy double life of laura palmer, and she’s a much more sympathetic character for it. she’s just a girl who dreams of getting out of a town she’s long outgrown, of making her way to new york and becoming a broadway star. and unlike so many, she might have actually achieved this goal, with her formidable powers of adapting to characters not her own, and the single-minded energy and optimism of youth.

There was something about her: a brightness, a presence… This was a girl who hadn’t made any mistakes yet, one who recognized the world as only a giant cupcake for her careless sampling.

she’s charismatic – people are drawn to her (or the “her” with whom they are presented), but there’s also a danger to her self-construction, once her mysteries begin to unravel:

… this girl who kept shedding masks like a matryoshka doll, each one more audacious than the last, a psychological striptease that racked me with the need to tear her apart until I found out who or what was inside.

mr. lund is an equally fascinating character – a young teacher, new to the profession, he has all the energy and enthusiasm of the best kinds of teachers: close enough in age to know how to relate to his students, refreshingly honest and unafraid to poke a little at the almighty canon, especially since i agree with his pokes:

“Every book changes you in some way, whether it’s your perspective on the world or how you define yourself in relation to the world. Literature gives us identity, even terrible literature. Moby-Dick, for example, defined how I feel about rope. I don’t know how anyone can write pages and pages of thinly veiled rope metaphors. If there are any Melville fans in the room, I might have trouble passing you.”

also, he’s not too hard on the eyes, as one of his students gushes:

“Kind of skinny, but hot, like library hot. Sweaty in the stacks, you know what I mean?”

“library hot” is such a perfect description that i will be using from now on.

but mr. lund is dealing with his own life’s problems – recently transplanted from minneapolis to his wife’s tiny hometown so she can care for her ailing mother, he’s feeling the loss of the cultural opportunities city life affords, and is becoming increasingly isolated from his wife, who is so capable at tending to the farm’s duties and so devoted to her mother, he feels extraneous, and is frequently a hindrance to her. vegetarians vs. the realities of farm life = always funny.

the third narrator – sheriff goodman, is less psychologically developed than these two, and his purpose in the story is to supply the details and discoveries of the investigation. he’s more than just a tool for that job; as an old friend of hattie’s family, he has some personal stake in the case, but he’s less defined as a character, so less interesting to me.

but the investigation itself is quite good – there are excellent twists and red herrings and false assumptions distracting the reader from the killer’s identity, and while the “solving the murder” parts were not what excited me the most about this book, they were well-written and suspenseful.

for me, it’s all about character here. i love unreliable narrators and how big a role perspective plays in our perception of an individual, and how this perception can be controlled by someone who doesn’t want to be seen. this theme permeates the entire book – not just the way hattie is seen by the other two narrators, but in the smaller moments of her story, in the ways she interacts with her peers, her parents, her boyfriend. the gulf between what they see and what she is thinking – it makes for a lonely, but powerful girl.

this book also has some marvelous phrasings:

She probably thought there were only a few years between us, but it was a lifetime – dark, undiscovered caverns of disappointment and compromises. She was the adult idealized. I was the adult that really happened.

so this is definitely one to check out if you’re into character-driven mystery stories or if you are in the mood for a psychologically-rich story with lots of seeeecrets.

and although their characters are completely dissimilar, the structure here reminds me of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, with its examination of the life of an enigmatic woman through the eyes of people who only knew pieces of her, and i think it would be a fine readalike to that book.

*my spellcheck says NO to braggy, but accepts bogglebraggy without a fuss. go figure.

read my reviews on goodreads

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