Kemanis (Love & Crimes, 2017, etc.) sets an intrepid prosecutor up against some high school drama with deadly consequences in this latest Dana Hargrove legal thriller.
Westchester County, New York, 2009: The new district attorney, Hargrove, takes office just as the adverse effects of the Great Recession—unemployment, domestic abuse, increased levels of substance abuse—start to take hold in her jurisdiction. Then the frozen body of a teen suicide is discovered in the Hudson River; it’s Naomi Steuben, a shy, overweight girl who’d recently been the victim of vicious online bullying by two classmates. Her grieving parents pressure the DA’s office to deliver justice, and Hargrove and her team must figure out how to prosecute the case without any cyberbullying laws on the books. As the attorneys—Hargrove; her husband, Evan Goodhue; and their rival Vesma Krumins—struggle to work within the law, the Hargroves’ kids, Travis and Natalie Goodhue, and Vesma’s daughter, Ginger, endure the petty and sometimes-harmful world of high school. Natalie is forced to testify against her peers, which has consequences for her entire family. Hargrove may not be able to keep her kids safe from the world’s tragedies, but she’ll do whatever she can to make sure justice is served. Kemanis writes in a style that adeptly dramatizes legal arguments while also finding moments of stark lyricism, as when she describes the moment just before Naomi’s wintry death: “With all physical sensation gone, the rest of it is now almost a memory, not even that. The remaining bits float away into the vast, sucking expanse of black sky over the river.” Although court cases figure heavily into the novel’s plot, the author manages to transcend the genre somewhat by delving so deeply into the lives of the teenage characters and their social circle. The result is a novel about how communities contend with their children’s coming-of-age, particularly in an era when technology is shifting the ground beneath everyone’s feet.
A thoughtful, well-drawn legal thriller with teen tribulation at its center.