Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy ( web | tweet )
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: dependent relationships, crime, secrets
Format read: ARC via Edelweiss from Publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: The morning after what was supposed to be the best date of her life, Nikki watches Dee leave to be questioned by the police department. He assures her everything is going to be fine, makes sure their story is straight, and promises to get in touch with her when he can. Even though Nikki knows she was roped into something terrible, hears the gunshots in her head, she trusts Dee when he says everything is going to be alright. Because love conquers all, right?
Criminal was one of those books I had to hide in another room so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep picking it up way way past my bedtime.
Terra Elan McVoy, queen of summer camp and girls being friends with boys, has created such a tense, horrifying, addicting read in 288 short pages. Nikki is a down on her luck teenager with an unstable home life, finally finding a sense of home with her best friend, Bird, and her baby daughter. But her whole life changes when she meets Dee and falls desperately in love. The desperate kind of love that makes you forget everything else, leaves you so undone, where everything else seems unimportant.
Dee is passionate when he’s sexy and when he’s angry, and makes Nikki feel worthwhile and safe. He’s the kind of guy that really knows how to manipulate a situation, knows how to use sex to his advantage and gets Nikki involved in a heartless crime. Before she even knows what’s happening he gives her a disguise, tells her where to drive and when to wait for him. Nikki is scared but not sure what to do, and when she hears the gunshots and sees Dee’s face afterwards, she’s still not sure what to feel.
The next morning Dee is questioned by the cops and promises to contact Nikki when he can. Nikki goes nuts trying to say the right things to the cops when they come to question her, and keeping everything from Bird is really hard. When she realizes the murder Dee has committed may get Bird in big trouble, Nikki confesses just enough to clear Bird from the crime but not enough to keep herself out of jail.
Does this sound like your typical YA?
McVoy has branched out so much; it’s like Criminal is from a different planetary system. Her succinct writing style, the oodles of research that had to be done, and the fact that as a reader, I couldn’t decide if Nikki was incredibly weak for not standing up to Dee before he killed someone or just totally helpless in the heat of the moment, or if she was really at fault or not when she had no idea what he was planning. Every time she texted him (and wasn’t supposed to), my brain was screaming “Nooo Nikki! Don’t you know they will have a record of those texts to use against you?” (Cue everything I learned from the Casey Anthony trial.)
It’s amazing — even though Nikki is now IN jail, obviously strained her friendship with Bird and lost her job, she still can’t believe anything bad about Dee. She’s afraid FOR him. I kept wondering when she would finally break, when she would finally start to feel angry because she still felt attached to him after the “foundation” of their relationship started to crack. After the authorities let a few of his lies loose. It’s kind of like watching someone wind down from the biggest high of their life and finally be forced to make make do with truth.
In the jail, with this group of girls, and having the opportunity to incarcerate Dee by spilling every detail she can think of, Nikki grows and changes in ways I didn’t fathom. For awhile, she’s detached, guilty, bored, obsessed, apprehensive, difficult. But jail is kind of this blessing; it’s a controlled environment, something she is not used to with her addict mom’s antics, or the disdain she felt from Bird when she was dating Dee. Even when things start to click for Nikki, her life is not without consequence and big unfortunate changes.
Criminal is such a tight, well-written story yet still leaves a lot of room for discussion. I really appreciated the leaps that McVoy took with her writing this go-around; this story about power, lust, and love never felt over-dramatized or black and white. And the fact that I was able to discuss the details at length with my husband just proved to me how versatile a book it was for readers, with the ability to satisfy a larger audience.