It was the perfect trip…until it wasn’t.
Eighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room, leg in a cast, stitches in her face and a big blank canvas where the last six weeks should be. She discovers she was involved in a fatal car accident while on a school trip in Italy. A trip she doesn’t even remember taking. She was jetted home by her affluent father in order to receive quality care. Care that includes a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…wasn’t an accident.
As the accident makes national headlines, Jill finds herself at the center of a murder investigation. It doesn’t help that the media is portraying her as a sociopath who killed her bubbly best friend, Simone, in a jealous rage. With the evidence mounting against her, there’s only one thing Jill knows for sure: She would never hurt Simone. But what really happened? Questioning who she can trust and what she’s capable of, Jill desperately tries to piece together the events of the past six weeks before she loses her thin hold on her once-perfect life.
Q: Your book examines the slight but significant differences between memory, perception (especially that of the media) and the actual truth. How have your own definitions of these three concepts changed after researching and writing this book? Do you think you are as trusting of others? Are you more critical of the media?
A: Because I’ve worked as a counsellor I’ve always known that the truth is a slippery
concept. Reality is filtered through our own experiences- many people have had the
experience of having a very clear memory of an event only to be surprised when someone
else remembers the same event very differently. We have concepts of who we are and our
brains are very capable of twisting events to fit that idea. The idea of memory versus
reality was one motivator for me to write WITH MALICE.
What was new for me was considering how the media and social media play such a big part
in shaping perceptions. As I researched the book I learned a lot about this topic.
Because we tend to skim news feeds, our entire concept of something might be based on a
headline or only a few comments. People often believe things online without checking to
see if they’re even true. Emotions get heated and things get said that would never be
said if people were actually talking to another person instead of a computer screen.
The process of writing the book has made me more determined to pause before making up my mind on any particular topic and being willing to check multiple sources to make sure
what I am hearing is as objective as possible. It also made me certain that I never want
to be accused of murder- especially in a juicy high profile case. Not that I want to be
accused of murder in any situation. : )
With Malice is a fascinating study of perception and interpretation, mixed with an intriguing mystery torn from the pages of recent events. Two young women traveling to an exciting new country until disaster strikes, with only the word of the survivor to really tell us what might have happened is a compelling story all on its own. Hidden truths, half-memories and secrets keep you on your toes throughout. When you realize that Jill and Simone could be any pair of best friends you knew in high school, the familiarity makes the narrative even more unsettling.
I liked the blend of perspectives Cook used in building her story, especially the third-party interviews by the police as we gained insight into what the other students thought of Jill and Simone’s relationship. As Jill’s memories returned and she shared more and more of her past with her best friend, we began to realize that the so-called friendship was fraught with tension, and that their relationship was far more complex than Jill originally led us to believe. I enjoyed the building tension that resulted from the reader discovering what might have happened just as Jill was recovering her memory, and kudos to the author to sustaining that tension right to the end.
For me, the idea of the truth being all a matter of perception was fascinating. Every person in the book had a differing view of Simone and of Jill, and even about Nico and his intentions. When you factored in the media reports and the online profiling of Jill and the case, it became increasingly more difficult to figure out truth from fiction. Trial by media is so common in our society, especially with the use of ‘clickbait’ headlines to grab reader attention, and I appreciated how Cook was able to include the social need for immediate judgement with the more careful police investigation as a contrast. It also made me think twice about what I might be reading online, and about how much background I might have about a particular case.
With it being a mystery, I won’t give too much away about the plot except to say that the author managed to keep me questioning what happened right until the very last page. I still can’t say that I know definitively how I feel about her actions, or about what actually happened, and I think that’s the mark of a great thriller. If you are looking for a great summer read, then look no further, and add With Malice to your reading list.
With Malice is available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. and may be purchased from your favourite online, popular or indie bookseller. ISBN: 9780544805095, 320 pages.