Delicate Monsters

Every time I go to check out one of Stephanie Kuehn's novels, they're already checked out at the library.  If I do get my grabby hands on a copy, it's reserved and I have to bring it back right away.  So, alas, I've not finished either Charm and Strange or Complicit, but I did tear through Delicate Monsters as an ARC.  Maybe I'll just buy the other two.

I've heard raves about Kuehn's writing, and Delicate Monsters does not disappoint.  At first, I wasn't sure if I liked it.  Then I'd oscillate over to "Oh, I love this!" and then shimmy down to "Hmmm, I don't know."  It was a definite roller coaster.  Except this roller coaster doesn't have brakes to slow you down.  You just go over a hill and keep on flying.

Sadie Su enjoys hurting people.  It's what makes her ... well, not happy, but satisfied.  She's an expert on cruelty.  This includes almost killing her former classmate at her former boarding school.  Now she's sent back home to California wine country, with a missing father and a mom who doesn't seem to notice that her daughter's a psychopath.  She's sent to the public high school, where she happens to run into Emerson, a boy she knew long ago, things shift ever so slightly.  And it can be the tiniest shift that causes an avalanche.

So how did Emerson, son of a mechanic who committed suicide, get to know richer-than-Croesus Sadie Su of the Napa Valley Su Winery? Shhh.  It's a secret.

And despite his aw-shucks upbringing and seemingly nice exterior, Emerson's good-boy exterior masks a truly twisted individual.  You probably won't believe me at first.  At first.

And then there's Miles, Em's younger brother.  He's always been a bit distant, and extremely sickly.  Their mother was even arrested for child abuse when they were kids, but she was exonerated.  Miles operates on a different plane than everyone else.  After a particularly grueling fencing session in gym (I guess when you go to school in Napa you get to learn fencing.  Jealous!!!), he has either a seizure or a religious epiphany.  You decide.

This is not a clear-cut, A leads to B leads to C wrap-it-up-tidy-with-a-bow-on-top book.  It's as messy and cruel and raw as those whose lives it chronicles.  It's a strangler vine that works it's way into your soul and then sucks everything out, leaving you an empty husk, trying to wrap your mind around what just happened.  The funny thing is that when I finished, I still wasn't sure if I liked the book or not.  Then, the next morning, in the shower, it hit me: this book is amazing.  I had to process everything in order to realize how unbelievably good this is.  And I absolutely love the ending and wouldn't change a thing about it.

At first, I thought this was going to be a Pretty Little Liars sort of book--at least based on the blurb.  Bad Girl Sadie gets booted from another boarding school and wreaks havoc at home.  But, oh, this is so much more.  It's an uncomfortable, necessary probe into the darkest parts of our souls, and a chronicle of the lies we tell to make ourselves seem "normal."

Except nothing really is "normal."  Normal is a lie we tell ourselves to gloss over the razor-sharp edges of our faults and sins and perversions.  We are monsters, but the glamour we cast over ourselves is indeed delicate.


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