Author: Jennifer duBois
Scribe RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Intelligent and astute, Cartwheel is an open-ended novel that examines perception – the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us. Are our perceptions of ourselves always correct? How does media (traditional and social) shape our perceptions of people and events? While the novel is loosely based on the infamous Amanda Knox trial, author Jennifer duBois has used the skeleton of a mass media story to deliver a read that goes beyond sensationalism, and indeed, beyond the question of guilt.
When Lily, an American foreign exchange student, is arrested for murder in Buenos Aires, everyone has a different opinion on her guilt. The media is all over the story, publishing Facebook statuses, emails and photos – anything that casts a negative light on Lily. There are photos of her kissing the boy next door hours after her room mate, Katy, was found dead in their shared bedroom; CCTV footage shows her looking at condoms in a shop; she’s showed little emotional reaction to the murder and her emails showed a disdain for Katy … and then there’s the cartwheel. Between interrogations, Lily inexplicably did a cartwheel and it’s that strange action that has everybody confused.
The story is told through different viewpoints, sometimes overlapping the same events from another perspective, shifting back and forth between past and present. The past is told through the eyes of Lily and Sebastien, the young man who lives next door, while the present is seen mainly through the eyes of her desperate father, Andrew, and Eduardo, the prosecuting lawyer. It’s a great technique because not only does reveal how differently she is viewed through others’ eyes (and her own) but it challenges the reader. One minute you think you have a good idea of who Lily is … the next, you’re not so sure. Sometimes she appears simply naive, thoughtless, even immature; the next minute she appears callous, deceptive and strange. It’s not just the different viewpoints that throws the reader, but DNA evidence, the deceptions and biases of others, and the also the question of who Katy is (also left open-ended). From a psychological suspense standpoint, it’s spot on; as far as human psychology goes, equally spot on.
As I read this, I found myself reacting to other characters as well, in particular Sebastien. He came across as such a smart-mouth, always hiding behind his peculiar one-liners; while he irritated me greatly at times (as well as other characters fortunate – or not – enough to join his word battles), I came to understand that this was his mask. This was how he dealt with pain, abandonment, fear and anxiety – hiding in his house and behind his words. Again, my perceptions of him changed based on who’s voice was speaking at the time.
The question of guilt also played out through Andrew’s viewpoint – not the matter of Lily’s guilt, rather parent guilt, as in, “Did we do something wrong here?” Such a familiar feeling – such a familiar fall back for parents who think they somehow they must have failed their child along the way. Andrew and his ex-wife Maureen are confronted with this through Lily’s experience, but also through their other daughter’s reaction to Lily’s arrest and trial.
Clever, perceptive and suspenseful, Cartwheel is a compulsive read that not only kept me guessing, but left my mind spinning. I’d happily recommend this one to anyone who likes an emotionally-charged, but intelligent, read that will leave readers divided about what really happened.
Here’s the trailer – it relies on words rather than images, but I think it works well.
Cartwheel is available from good bookstores and Scribe Publications. This copy was courtesy of Scribe Publications.