Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy

Title: Criminal
Author: Terra Elan McVoy
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: May 7th 2013
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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Nikki’s life is far from perfect, but at least she has Dee. Her friends tell her that Dee is no good, but Nikki can’t imagine herself without him. He’s hot, he’s dangerous, he has her initials tattooed over his heart, and she loves him more than anything. There’s nothing Nikki wouldn’t do for Dee. Absolutely nothing.
So when Dee pulls Nikki into a crime – a crime that ends in murder – Nikki tells herself that it’s all for true love. Nothing can break them apart. Not the police. Not the arrest that lands Nikki in jail. Not even the investigators who want her to testify against him.
But what if Dee had motives that Nikki knew nothing about?
Nikki’s love for Dee is supposed to be unconditional…but even true love has a limit. And Nikki just might have reached hers.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Criminal turned out to be really different than I'd expected. I had assumed the story would start with Nikki being happy with Dee, show how he gradually pulls her into this darker stuff, and then escalate with the murder. I figured the novel would end with Nikki finally giving up Dee and going to the police. But that's not how Criminal is set up. The story starts with the murder and deals mainly with the aftermath. This set-up has its pros and cons: it made me feel Nikki's despair, and it let us see what happens later on, but it also made it a bit harder to understand why Nikki won't give Dee up, since we never get to see the two of them together before things went so wrong. 

It isn't easy to be in Nikki's head. Seeing her continue to defend Dee, to abandon herself and everyone around her to do exactly what Dee tells her, to basically wreck everything for her obsession with Dee... it gets frustrating. But Nikki's character is so well done that I sympathized with her despite her flaws. Her life leading up to this point has been rough, to say the least, and it's easy to understand why she would cling on to Dee, when so many other people have abandoned her. Being inside Nikki's head is harrowing, emotional, and sometimes painful, but I loved it. The cast of secondary characters isn't too complex or lovable (except for Bird, of course), but they do add a lot to the story.

Like I said earlier, the downfall of starting this story with the crime is that we don't get to know what Dee and Nikki were like before things went so wrong. In any story about an unhealthy relationship, I think it's important to show both the problematic parts and the good moments so that the reader can understand why the victim loves their partner so much and won't give them up. And that was missing in Criminal. Throughout the novel, I felt nothing but hatred towards Dee, what he puts Nikki through and how he treats her. I wish we had gotten some more insight into Dee as a person, to find out about his background and understand how he came to be this monster of a person. Of course it's important to show that his actions are completely unacceptable, but I still wish his character had been more complex so we could have understood him and his relationship with Nikki a bit better.

The prison setting is really well done. I can't judge how realistic it is (and don't want to!), but it definitely felt real. I loved reading about all those details that you don't really hear about, and it was great to see how Nikki's relationships with the other inmates develop.

Criminal is very different from Terra Elan McVoy's previous books. I loved her light, entertaining reads, but she does this darker story really well too. Criminal is a unique, gritty novel, and while it's a hard read, it's definitely worth it. I can't wait to read Terra Elan McVoy's newest, In Deep!


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