Author: Charles Benoit
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult
Publication Date: September 2010
Hardcover: 240 pages
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.
You’re just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can’t be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?
There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them? Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late? Think fast, Kyle. Time’s running out. How did this happen?
You is the riveting story of fifteen-year-old Kyle and the small choices he does and doesn’t make that lead to his own destruction.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: Purely because of this review at The Crooked Shelf because I really trust Carla as a reviewer.
The story is simple: Kyle Chase is just a typical emo teenager coasting by High School, making very little effort about anything, with few friends, a strained relationship with his parents and a helpless crush on a girl friend. Then he falls in with the wrong crowd and even though he is very aware that he is spiraling down a dangerous path, since his actions go largely unchecked by the adults in his life and Kyle believes he has little to choice about it all.
What is atypical is the fact that the book is written in the second-person narrative mode and the narrator refers to Kyle as “YOU” therefore effectively bringing down the barrier between reader and story, because it feels like you are inside the story. As far as I can remember this is the first story I have ever read with a second-person narrative and it was quite the experience: uneasy and tense throughout, as though somehow the omniscient narrator was reaching through the pages to get ME. Or rather, to get TO me.
Because it made me squirm in my seat and think things through very carefully after its impacting ending, and feel for Kyle wondering about the fairness of it all. Although I do believe this only really works because it is such a short book – about 240 pages, in sparse writing and large borders – otherwise it would have been harder to maintain that barrier down (shields up! Shields up! my mind kept begging me).
Plot-wise, You is a mixture of realistic Contemporary YA and a thriller.
As a realistic contemporary novel, it is excellent, although not particularly original. Kyle is in that in-between place where he is still not too sure about things but as a clever guy, he is starting to figure things out. He is not making a lot of effort at school because he realizes that very little effort is expected from him. Through a series of bad calls, he ends up at the wrong school for him. He starts to wear the hoodies that are stereotypically associated with a particular type of crowd and from that point on, he is type-cast. He is lazy, he is prone to dream about things he can’t have; he is constantly hoping the girl he likes will be his girlfriend but doesn’t do anything about it. He is stand-off ish but he has a soft side which he only shows when he is talking to his adorable little sister. He is angry all the time and this anger is perhaps warranted but he hardly knows how to handle it. Had the book been a straight-up realistic contemporary novel, I don’t doubt that Kyle could have been ok in the end – making through difficult times.
However the book opens with this scene:
You are surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He’s surprised, too.
There is not a lot of broken glass, though, just some tiny slivers around his feet and one big piece busted into sharp peaks like a spiking line graphs, the blood washing down it like rain on a windshield.
He doesn’t say anything clever or funny, doesn’t quote Shakespeare, just screams. But no one can hear him, and it would be too late if they could.
You are thinking, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, this shouldn’t be happening. And now things are only going to get worse… You’re just a kid.
And then the story goes back in time. So even though the majority of the book reads as a simple contemporary novel about a troubled teenager, you know that it can’t be as simple as that. There is this foreshadowing that something terrible is going to happen which is impossible to shake-off and that makes for an extremely tense read.
The funny thing is how it’s only a small thing that tips the book (and Kyle) over the edge and that is this one secondary character that shows up at Kyle’s school: he is a devil in disguise. Someone who, for apparent no reason, likes to mess with people’s minds and play on their weakness. This immediately made me think of Shakespeare’s play Othello and the title character’s relationship with Iago. Iago is a villain and a master at manipulation. But Othello is no real victim because he is willing and ready to be manipulated.
That is the whole point of You, I think: it is about what can be right or wrong and about real, shared responsibility. Yes: Kyle’s predicaments are exacerbated by this new student. Yes: people – his parents, teachers – have completely failed Kyle. But Kyle has also failed himself. Ultimately it is about the choices HE made, how he let himself go down a path he did not really want to and even turned down help when offered. About the realization that he could have done things differently. And YOU, the reader, have known it all along. This is the real horror of this haunting story.
It’s not that classes are hard. Most of the time they are ridiculously easy. The textbooks are dumbed down to the point where your kid sister could probably read them, and the teachers go over and over and over the same stuff anyway, drilling it into your head so that they can ask you one hundred multiple-choice questions to get it all back out of you again. The teachers complain that students today are all lazy, ignorant, and stupid. But the truth is that you are smarter than they are. You’re not even old enough to drive and you already know that none of this matters. Not the English or the social studies or the math or the science. If it did, it it really mattered, they’d teach it in a way that made you want to learn it. But no, they’ve got to teach it in a way that made you want to learn it. But no, they’ve got to teach it in the most mind-numbing way possible, moving on without any real discussion to get to the next thing that it’s going to be on the test – the standardized text. Then when you take that standardized text they stand there in front of the class and actually tell you, “These texts are here to help rate the school, and won’t help your grade.” And then they’re shocked by the results. And they say the students are stupid?
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading next:: The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle.
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