Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Goodreads Description: "Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.

So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime—a crime that ends in murder—Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.

But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about? Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers."

My Review: I have so many mixed feelings about this book, it's hard to know where to start. I picked it up because of the cover---it's really cool in its simplicity. It's elegant and kind of thrilling. So I read the inside jacket and thought, Hmmm, this looks interesting, despite the fact that the book was pretty slim. 

And...it wasn't really that interesting. I guess I'll preface by talking about the things I did like about this book: it was honest. It basically told the story of a weak-willed girl who fell in love with a gangbanger and dug herself into a hole she couldn't claw her way out of. It was hard to read through Nikki's POV because she was so...weak. So desperate for Dee (who was a regulation emotionally-manipulative and abusive jerk). So willing to lie for him, ruin good friendships for him, simply because she craved his love and she deluded herself into thinking he actually loved her and was good for her. It made me cringe because it goes against everything you're ever taught regarding female characters. But then I had to stomach my disgust for Nikki (and my obvious disgust for Dee) and appreciate Nikki a little bit because girls like her really DO exist. Girls fall into traps, they get sucked into relationships they can't get out of, they get trapped with unsafe people, they get psychologically and emotionally manipulated and groomed. The tell-tale signs of an abusive relationship. And as much as Nikki's weak will and wishy-washy-ness and willingness to make excuses for Dee grossed me out---I had to set aside my feelings to remember that girls like Nikki really do exist and really do need help. So in that sense, this book was good, because it told a simple and honest story: girl falls for wrong guy, guy manipulates girl, girl ruins life and friendships over guy because she's young and poor and doesn't have much of a bright future. 

The story also spoke subtle messages about what it means to be young and poor, how vulnerable you are to falling in with a bad crowd, so I thought that was very interesting. YA fiction dealing with issues about poverty isn't exactly common. 

I was also pleased to see a woman of color as one of the main characters (Bird, Nikki's closest thing to a friend and somewhat-sister/mother figure). We don't really see POC, and especially WOC, represented in books and I was really glad to see a WOC---a black woman---shown as someone who embodied all the stereotypes about black women ("Oh, they're all poor and live in apartments. The father of the baby doesn't stick around. They do hair and nails for a living.") and rose above those stereotypes to show that even if a WOC does fit all those stereotypes, why does it mean she's a bad person or someone to look down upon? Bird had more morals and common sense than anyone else in the story and that made me love her. 

I guess what I didn't like about the book was the same thing I had to force myself to appreciate: how unsatisfactory the conclusions were. The endings were very open-ended and somewhat random; they weren't exactly sad, nor were they happy, they were mixed and realistic and while I appreciate that, it makes for slightly boring, depressing reading. There wasn't much closure. In that sense, I suppose this book was ultimately a decent way to pass an hour or two. It talked about some tough, realistic subjects (though I think other books have done it better) but wasn't too deep or complex, so that may be a good thing for some people and a bad thing for others. It was a slight turn-off for me, I prefer more discussion in my books, but hey, it is what it is.

Cover: Simple, elegant, and it tells a story. I do love the cover, it's what made me pick up the book in the first place.

Overall Grade: C-

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