☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ a n d a h a l f s t a r s
Hattie Hoffman is a senior in high school, and she’s admired by many – she has a stable boyfriend, lovely parents, and a dazzling personality that everyone is charmed by. But Hattie has a secret; she was involved in an online relationship with a man that was the only person Hattie related to in her small-town life, surrounded by people who have different ambitions. She’s an actor, and she’s spent her entire life playing parts, both on the stage and in her relationships, but with this one person, she can be herself. But before she can achieve her dream of moving to New York and becoming an actress, her body is found floating in the river, brutally stabbed. During the investigation, the town’s secrets begin to emerge in a story so twisty and turny that you never see what’s coming next.
Thrillers tend to go one of three ways for me; they’re either too predictable and fall flat, or they throw you curveball after curveball, leaving you disoriented, confused and so, indifferent. But then there are the thrillers that are perfectly balanced, where each tidbit of information is revealed at precisely the right moment, so that you’re never bored or left hanging for too long, but also can keep up with everything that’s going on. Everything You Want Me to Be fits into the third category. Mejia is extremely skilled at pacing her story. It’s not a simple tale; there are several subplots given the multiple perspectives: Hattie’s viewpoint showing flashbacks; Peter, the person she had an affair with, who is also her high school English teacher; and the detective who is on her case. But despite these several intricacies, they are balanced precariously, yet delicately. As aforementioned, every little piece of information, every facet of the characters’ personalities and their darker secrets is released at just the right moment; as a result, you’re constantly curious, and constantly engaged (I read the book in a day!)
Many thrillers tend to rely on twists at the last moment, sudden changes in pacing and narrative that often fall flat and seem cheap; Mejia strays far from that trope. Everything You Want Me to Be is a dense psychological thriller driven by its characters. Each character is flawed and multi-faceted, forcing you to root for them, and sometimes wish for their downfall. Even Hattie; she’s unlikable, in many ways, given her penchant for manipulation and morphing her personality depending on who she is with (do you get the title now?) But despite this, you can’t help but feel for this also-relatable girl who feels stuck and unmotivated in a dreary, small-town life. There are two or three main suspects throughout the novel, but even they have both redeemable and damnable characteristics. The result is a complicated, interesting story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
I touched upon the relationship in this novel before – Hattie’s having an affair with her English teacher, Peter. This is a disturbing trope that is often romanticized in books, but I would argue that this particular book doesn’t glamorize it, but rather shows you just how damaging and problematic these types of relationships are. You feel for Hattie; Peter is the only person she can relate to, but certain things she does raises questions. Peter is clearly more to blame in this scenario – he’s older, he’s in the position of authority, and he’s married, and you do despise him for this, but his inner push-and-pull and his otherwise deeply empathetic nature stops you from assigning him the villainous archetype. This is not a trope discussed a la Pretty Little Liars, where the relationship is long-lasting, romanticized and shown as hashtag-goals; Hattie and Peter are disturbing, and the controversy (if it can be called that) is dealt with sensitively, yet honestly.
I had initially given the book a 4-star rating, but a good month has passed since I read it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I remember clearly each and everything that came to pass; I still feel for the characters, I still am disturbed by the psychological nature of it, so I’m bumping it up to a 4 and a half star rating. It’s truly fascinating, and will keep you up late at night, immersed and unable to stop.