Book Review: With Malice by Eileen Cook

with malice via paper trail diary

With Malice by Eileen Cook, via HMH Books, out now.

Jill is pretty disoriented when she wakes up. In fact she can barely move or speak. Her head feels like it’s going to explode. Jill didn’t just wake up from a long night of partying – she woke up in a hospital with no memory of the last six weeks. But those memories are crucial because what knocked her out was a tragic car crash on a school trip to Italy. Her best friend Simone was in the car too, but didn’t survive. Jill doesn’t know yet that people are blaming her for murder outside of the hospital walls.

What a hook, right?! If you’re not interested in a story out of that then I’m going to think you live in a cave with fire as your only entertainment. As suspense/thrillers are all the rage these days, the genre has been leaking into YA, like with The OutliersWith Malice joins those ranks with intensity and mind games.

With Malice follows Jill’s time spent in the rehab hospital, regaining her physical strength and trying to will memories back into existence with a psychologist. She’s often posed with the question of ‘well even if you don’t remember, do you think you would kill her if you got angry?’ which she rejects because Simone was her best friend, Simone meant everything to her. Why would she do something like that? And why don’t people believe her?

While Jill is being speared in articles and blogs by former classmates, trip mates and complete randos as a hateful bitch, jealous of Simone and murderous because she’s quiet, she has to sit inside and read it all, unable to do anything about it. Then she finds out there was a man. That she was supposedly in a relationship with an Italian TA, Nico, on the trip. She doesn’t remember that at all, and is shocked that she even had a boyfriend because he would’ve been her first. Theories pop up about sleezy Nico’s involvement and how Simone was always desperate to be the centre of attention. Was there a love triangle? Did Nico kill Simone? So many questions.

I found that With Malice ended up being more about psychological themes than dark and suspenseful. It clearly is trying to spit what we often see in the media back at us: people can be completely torn apart without facts, using photos out of context and impressions other people had. We could think something about someone based off an impression but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

They had another picture of me too. Someone must have taken it during rehearsals for the play. I was wearing my costume, and I had on bright red lipstick. The photo had caught me mid-laugh so my mouth was open wide. It looked like I was cackling. I looked like ‘that person.’ The kind of person who talks during a movie, who cheats at Monopoly, who drops food on the pages of a library book and just turns it in, the person who uses the last of the toilet paper and lets the next person air dry. The kind of person you hate.

People are always hungry for a story and a witch hunt, especially one that pits girls against each other. “It doesn’t matter what’s true,” Jill’s hospital roommate Anna tells her, “what matters is what people believe.”

We have to think alongside Jill: what would we do if we were pushed to our limits? What can we picture ourselves doing? How much can we trust our memories? How well do we know ourselves? How much do you care about what others think of you? It’s tiring to work your brain like that but it’s worth it.

With Malice is going to get people questioning a lot of things this summer. It brings you in with a thrilling hook and sits you down to think. It’ll give you clues throughout Jill’s narrative, blog posts, articles, police interviews and a travel guide to the places in Italy they were in. You’ll go through it quickly because you’ll want to be connecting the dots just as much as Jill does.

I have thoughts about the ending but obviously I won’t share them! But if you’ve read it too, I want to discuss.

Thanks to Raincoast Books, I’ve been included on the With Malice Canadian blog tour. Check out these other great bloggers who are all giving their two cents about the book! Melissa at YA Bookshelf has her review up today, too.

With Malice Blog Tour

With the blog tour comes a question I got to ask Eileen:

TPPD: Memory is the real pinpoint of the story. To lose six weeks worth of it is terrifying. How good do you think your memory is? What’s a memory you have that you’re not totally sure is solid (could it be more from hearing what others have told you, a home video, etc)?

Eileen: I worked for years as a counselor for people with catastrophic injuries and illness, including brain injury. One of the hardest aspects for people to cope with in the recovery phase was the loss of memory—not knowing what happened in your own life is freaky! What really happened to anyone is filtered through past experiences, memory, and belief systems. In the book I hoped to give readers the experience of trying to sift through all this information and decide for themselves what they believed happened.

Recently I was talking to my long-term best friend Laura about how we met when she moved to our small town. She suddenly interrupted me saying: “That’s not how it happened at all! Don’t you remember I was friends with Carrie first and we only became friends after Carrie became sick and had to leave school?” As soon as she said it the memory snapped into place, but before she mentioned it, I had completely forgotten about Carrie. Zap. Not in my head at all.  I remembered it completely differently. I had complete memories of how I talked to her on her first day—and all of that never happened. It was a bit disturbing. It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten and replaced with a different memory.

Are you excited to read With Malice? How well do you trust your memories?

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