Despite the unlikeliness of the concept, Slaughter manages the lighthearted tone and gossipy aesthetic that works for teen drama, even once Sam’s trial begins, while also still treating the trauma of being accused of murder with welcome seriousness. Sam’s conflict with her mother is balanced by plenty of family warmth in the relationship Sam builds with Noah’s family, especially with his disabled younger brother Joey. Sam and Kali’s relationship pulses with the expected cattiness for young adult dramatics, and classic high school bullying comes in the form of Gary, stage manager and failed suitor of Sam’s. Slaughter’s love of music shines throughout, particularly in the theater and at Noah’s home.
The narrative makes it clear to readers that Sam is innocent, and the twists in the investigation tend to be familiar, throwing the focus on Sam’s attempts to find out the truth as well as her relationships with the people who help, or hinder, her. Slaughter’s characterization deftly balances complex characters with some who are clearly villains, inviting readers to feel the satisfaction of seeing the heroes win. Despite the central topic being murder, Slaughter omits gory crime descriptions, and threats against Sam are taunting more than potentially fatal, keeping the book consistently appropriate for young adults.
Takeaway: This classic real-world YA mystery has high energy, good flow, and a story that compels.
Great for fans of: Claire Handscombe’s Girl, Unstrung; Shannon Symonds’s Murder Takes a Selfie.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A