by Charles Benoit
A sense of doom pervades this gripping YA debut from adult mystery writer Benoit, made all the more devastating by an empathetic main character. Second-person omniscient narration invites readers into Kyle’s grim story: “Welcome to the official start of tenth grade. Welcome to the last year of your life.” Previous bad choices have landed him at Midlands High, and as one of the school’s burnout “Hoodies” (so-named for their requisite hooded sweatshirts), Kyle finds his world increasingly circumscribed. “Every day you get up, go to school, fake your way through your classes, come home, get hounded about your homework… and the next day you get to do it all over again.” Bright but unmotivated, Kyle is easily swept into newcomer Zach’s sinister orbit, as the wealthy and psychologically brutal Zach defends, charms, and then seeks to destroy him. Kyle’s internal thought processes (frequent lists, parental nagging, one-sided conversations) convey a conflicting swirl of emotions–rage, distrust, betrayal, empathy, and love–while an overarching defeatism prevents him from acting on constructive impulses. Disturbing content blends with skillful, fast-paced writing, adding a thriller spin to the novel’s vicious realism.