A teenage girl’s murder splits apart a rural Minnesota community, uncovering not only her secrets, but also those of the town.
Like so many teenagers living in small towns, 18-year-old Hattie Hoffman wanted out of Pine Valley. Specifically, she wanted to go to New York City, where she envisioned acting on Broadway. Instead, she ended up stabbed to death in a barn weeks before graduation after a rave performance as Lady Macbeth in that Scottish play. Mejia, making her adult debut after The Dragon Keeper (2012), a book for teens, alternates perspective, building up to the day Hattie dies in Hattie’s own voice and in the days and weeks after, from the points of view of the cookie-cutter town sheriff and the obvious suspect, Hattie’s English teacher, as he stumbles through his predictably crumbling marriage. Hattie is a master manipulator, so much so that it’s often difficult to believe she’s only 18; when the flirtation with teacher Peter Lund, which begins online, blossoms into a full-blown affair, it’s frustrating that the adult appears to be the one for whom the author is trying to elicit more sympathy rather than the high school student with whom he's having sex. Sheriff Del Goodman functions less as a character and more as a vehicle to move the story along: someone has to solve Hattie’s murder, so it may as well be him. In the year leading up to her death, as Hattie prepares her grand exit, her death seems inevitable not owing to the way she lived, but because Mejia stays so far within what are safe narrative boundaries.
There’s an attempt at profundity here that falls flat, leaving instead a story we’ve seen before of a pretty girl who winds up dead and the usual cast of suspects who may have killed her.