by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by St Martin's Griffin
on June 9, 2015
Source: finished copy sent by publisher for review
Synopsis from Goodreads: When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble. Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him. Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past. But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs.My take: I've been a big fan of Stephanie Kuehn since her debut YA book, Charm and Strange. I also read her second book, Complicit. Her books are hard to review, because I don't want to give too much away. But here goes: Kuehn's books always seem to feature beautiful writing, a haunting, dark quality, and characters who are unconventional or have a secret, or are unreliable (or all three!)
Delicate Monsters has all those characteristics and more. It's the story of three teenagers: Sadie, who's back in town after being kicked out of yet another school, Emerson, a seeming golden boy with secrets of his own, and Miles, the younger brother of Emerson.
Sadie and Emerson and knew each other years back, and all three attend the same northern California high school, where their paths cross in ways. (I love the way this book doesn't romanticize high school -- in this story the teenage life she portrays is both realistic and disturbing without being sensationalized.) Kuehn's writing is so skilled and so subtle -- there's something effortless about the way she slowly reveals her characters. YA has had a lot of unreliable narrators in fiction recently, and many authors who use the technique use it to create a big, shocking reveal at the end. (Yes, Kuehn has done this in other books, but not just for the shock value. ) I love the way she lets the reader think they understand a character: "bad girl," "golden boy," "outcast," and then gradually reveals that none of her characters are what they seem. (Kuehn's characters do seem more amoral than the average person, but they also seem very real. ) And to me, what Kuehn's work also seems to point out is that all of us are somewhat unreliable when it comes to being honest about ourselves -- about our motivations, our mistakes, our feelings, our secrets.
I thought that Delicate Monsters had less of a page-turning plot than Complicit. (Not every reader agrees with me on this.) The ending is dramatic, yet still sort of ambiguous. In the end, all I can say is that if you're already a fan of Kuehn's, you'll definitely want to read this. If you haven't tried a Stephanie Kuehn book, you are really missing out.