Way back in February, I wrote about Erin Saldin’s Girls of No Return, a book about trust and truth; power and personality; deception, manipulation, love, loyalty, and lies. It’s completely riveting and emotionally complex, and has such a strong narrative voice that now, months later, Lida, Boone and Gia are all still with me.
It begins with the protagonist’s entry into a new world—a wilderness camp populated by wayward teenage girls sent by their parents in a last-ditch attempt to get them back on the straight-and-narrow—and it ends with a knife. It’s a chronicle of Lida’s own journey towards healing, her account of being at the center of a battle of wills, a confession, and an apology. I loved it.
So it feels serendipitous that my 2012 reading year has ended* with a book that has a striking number of the same elements: The Believing Game, by Eireann Corrigan. After one shoplifting fiasco too many (not to mention her ongoing promiscuity and issues with food), our narrator, sixteen-year-old Greer, finds herself at McCracken Hill, a boarding school/rehab facility for the young, rich, and troubled. Greer stays aloof from the other residents until the arrival of eighteen-year-old Addison: him, she can’t stay away from, and her feelings are reciprocated wholeheartedly. But Addison is a package deal: he has an extremely close relationship with his AA sponsor, Joshua, a charismatic and manipulative middle-aged man. Before long, Greer and Joshua are locked in a battle over not only Addison’s loyalty and attention, but his heart and mind as well. And like The Girls of No Return, it’s a story that ends with a knife.
It’s not as strong as The Girls of No Return—in terms of plotting, character, emotional impact or setting—but even with its weaknesses, it’s a hell of a read. The first half of the book—as Greer gets to know Addison and starts to give Joshua the side eye—is a slow build, but then, at a not-exactly-school-sanctioned-retreat with Joshua and a few other McCracken students, it takes a sharp left into Crazytown. That’s when the gloves come off, Greer knows she’s not imagining things, and Joshua gets nauseatingly creepier by the minute.
As I said, it’s not perfect—Greer tells you about her emotional connection with Addison rather than making you feel it, it’s hard to believe that a super-expensive rehab facility would be quite so lax about background checks and trips off-campus, and the epilogue was almost as unnecessary as the one at the end of Harry Potter VII—but it’s still hugely enjoyable. The portrayal of Joshua is especially good—he doesn’t come off as simply a grifter, a cult leader, a spiritual guru, or even a villain. Despite his sketchy** activities and methods, he does inspire some genuine growth in Greer. Because of that, her suspicions are always tempered with at least a smidge of regret, and in turn, that makes her more empathetic about Addison’s unshakeable faith.
Some readers are bound to be frustrated by Greer’s resistance to dealing with the Joshua problem head-on, but I found it completely understandable. Because at the core of it—discounting, if you can, all of his lies and everything else—while they go about trying to get it in very different ways, she and Joshua do want the same thing: to be genuinely loved.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.
*Well, not quite—we’ve got a few weeks left—but close!
**HOLY COW, MASSIVE UNDERSTATEMENT. Seriously.