Me, to my husband: Okay, I’m going to call it: ____________ did it, because ___________.
Him: O…. kay?
Me: Indulge me! I just want to have proof that I called it before I finished the book.
Him: Fine, fine. *waves me off and turns back to Annihilation*”
I was right. About halfway through Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Don’t Look Back, I’d identified the villain, and while it took me a good while longer to identify the motivation, I pegged that long before the reveal as well. But, you know? It didn’t really matter. While I was entirely satisfied with myself at the reveal (always a nice feeling), this book wasn’t so much about the suspense as it was about the journey.
It opens with a 17-year-old girl, barefoot and bloody, walking down the road. Once she inevitably ends up in the hospital, Samantha Jo Franco finds out that A) she has a serious case of amnesia, and B) that her best friend, Cassie Winchester, is still missing.
When she gets home, she discovers—in addition to the fact that she is almost ridiculously wealthy—that she is the Meanest of all the Mean Girls, the Queen Bee of all the Buzzers. But she doesn’t FEEL like a Mean Girl. She isn’t interested in getting reacquainted with her long-term boyfriend or her circle of supposed close girlfriends…because they seem like, to put it bluntly, jerks. She isn’t even all that interested in the very, very expensive contents of her walk-in closet. Rather, she’s more drawn to her far-less-socially-prominent twin brother, his girlfriend and her family’s gardener’s son. ESPECIALLY her family’s gardener’s son. And so while the mysterious note that she finds—Don’t look back. You won’t like what you find.—could easily be read as a threat, it could also be meant as a well-intentioned warning.
But she ignores it, of course.
While the book is far from perfect—Carson, while very attractive despite his “lapis lazuli” eyes, is a bit too TOO to be believed; the major Mean Girls are laughably two-dimensional; so many characters arch so many eyebrows that I was worried someone was going to get injured—and while it certainly doesn’t have the emotional resonance or the memorability of Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone, it’s a completely engaging, entertaining read. Seeing Sam reconnect with her brother and her grade school friend; watching her smolder with Carson; figuring out her relationship with her parents; experiencing the guilty horror of discovering just how terribly she’d treated others in the past; rooting for her as she fights against that identity, despite the disturbingly high number of people who try to convince her that that’s who she is…it’s just plain fun.
Bonus points! There’s a sex scandal involving some photos, and while Sam is embarrassed about their circulation and certainly feels violated about their existence in the first place, she doesn’t A) feel shame about the (consensual) sexual activity, and B) it isn’t ever suggested that she should. Teen sexuality is treated frankly and without condescension, and that terrible experience is paralleled by a very healthy, loving one. So, yay you, Jennifer L. Armentrout!
*I’m TOTALLY reading it next.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.