Wild and Crooked
By Leah Thomas
Published June 4, 2019 by Bloomsbury
In the small town of Samsboro, Kentucky, a high school golden boy named James Ellis was murdered by another high school student, Gary Spence. Seventeen years later, the son of the murdered boy and the daughter of the murderer meet and become friends.
Gus Peake and Kalyn Spence have both had rough childhoods. Gus’s dad was murdered when he mother was only a few months pregnant. He was born with cerebral palsy, and his disability and his tragic backstory are all that anyone in his small town sees when they look at him. His mother is also extremely overprotective and treats him like a child. Kalyn has grown up half-wild, with a mother who’s got some issues (I have to question the life choices of someone who seeks out a relationship with a convicted murderer), and she acts out a lot.
The two meet and become friends without knowing who the other is (Kalyn is attending school under a pseudonym and Gus has a different last name than his father). They’re both misfits, and their growing bond is very sweet. It’s completely platonic, as Kalyn is a lesbian (Gus is pansexual). That bond is tested when they learn each other’s identities and when evidence surfaces that suggests that Gary Spence may not be guilty.
I’m fascinated by the aftermath of tragedy and how people deal with bad things years after the fact, and I’m drawn to books with this sort of story. It was interesting getting to see both sides of the aftermath of a murder, what it’s like to be the son of a murder victim and what’s it like to be the daughter of the murderer. It’s also an insight into mob mentality: the townspeople of Samsboro don’t take kindly to the suggestion that Gary Spence might be innocent, and there’s a huge public outcry. Basically, everyone is awful to Kalyn in the name of supporting Gus, support he doesn’t want or need. I had all the feels in the last third of the book as these two characters go through so much. It’s also an interesting look at the power dynamics of “justice” when the victim is a rich golden boy and the alleged murderer is a poor kid.
My only complaint is that the solution of the mystery is a little disappointing, but this isn’t really a mystery, and in the end, what really happened is only a small part of the bigger picture. This is really Gus and Kalyn’s story.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.