This debut novel by Nina Raman is full of milkshakes, teen hijinks, and murder. And it fills a hole in the YA market with its realistic depictions of teens.
This debut by Nina Raman is full of milkshakes, teen hijinks, and murder. And it fills a hole in the YA market with its realistic depictions of teens.
Raman doesn’t pull any punches with this book. The novel opens with a trigger warning for violence, underage drinking, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, anxiety, and more. For a good reason too. Each of the characters has a secret, which they share with each other after one raucous night and a morning that starts with the police knocking on our protagonist’s door.
While I don’t read mystery/thrillers often, I do enjoy an occasional fast-paced whodunnit. I have one rule with murder mysteries: if I’m genuinely surprised at the killer’s identity and reread parts of the book to look for clues, then it’s a winner. This book does just that.
My main gripe is the pacing in the first act of the book which features our main characters, Rohit and Wren, assembling the party squad. While getting to know the party squad was essential, especially once the murder takes place and everyone is a suspect, some moments could have been compressed for a tighter narrative and made room for more hijinks. The reader does not see the party until Chapter 10, roughly 100-pages into the book, the gathering friends taking up 40% of the novel.
This portion of the review will contain spoilers, so this is your warning if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to be spoiled.
The best part of this book is the characters.
There’s a diverse cast of teens with different backgrounds, societal expectations, lifestyles, and personalities. There’s the senior in high school dating an older guy who works at the liquor store, the guy with drug connections, the party mom, the artsy burnout, the one who’s going overseas after high school, the valedictorian with strict parents, and the nerd who wants a walk on the wild side. All of them are in their senior year of high school, yearning to break out of the social molds they’ve been maneuvering within for years.
Raman doesn’t reduce her characters into stereotypes, shiny versions of teens, or even the current popular oversexualized edgy high school students. The main character, Wren, struggles with ADHD and self-harm (cutting), which was made worse when rumors flew around about her Adderall prescription. This compelling character feels grounded with stakes in her social, academic, and personal life.
While dimensionalityBeing dimensional is expected of our main character, Raman also gives her side characters sufficient background and detail that fully realizes them. When the AP Econ teacher is introduced writing on the board and is mocked by the kids after noticing his distinct change in appearance, they tease him for looking like he’s going on a date after his “nasty divorce.” Even though this is a teacher and the book is focused on the ultimate teen party for the school’s valedictorian and salutatorian, this was a nice, poignant detail woven into the text.
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