When a beloved high school student is found murdered, a boy who loved her, a girl who envied her, and the officer investigating the case are challenged to confront their darkest secrets in order to find the truth.
This brooding and intense thriller will plunge readers into a dark world they may not want to enter-but they may be unable to tear themselves free. At first glance, it seems a basic-enough premise: Lucinda Hayes, a high-school freshman, is found dead one snowy night at the playground in her neighborhood, and her family and friends are left with their awful grief. This novel stands out by initially painting a picture-perfect community, then slowly peeling that away to show the crushing weight of truth between the narrators' flashbacks and the investigation occurring in present day. Between the boy who flirted between love and obsession by watching through her bedroom window at night, the girl who feels Lucinda took everything that mattered from her, and the officer working the case, the threads of Lucinda's life come together and give meaning to her death. This unlikely trio of narrators gives readers a different look into the idyllic, small-town life, and how not everything is as it appears on the surface. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.
When lovely 15-year-old Lucinda Hayes is murdered on a playground in a placid Colorado town, the prime suspect is one of her classmates.The first of three narrators in Kukafka's debut is the perhaps mentally ill ninth-grader Cameron Whitley. Utterly obsessed with Lucinda, for years he has spent all his time stalking her, drawing her, and thinking about her. He saw her the night of her death, and now he somehow has her purple suede diary, which he puts in his closet along with his Collection of the Pencil Bodies, his Collection of People Who Did Terrible Things, and others. "The only one hidden in his head was the Collection of Statue Nights"—his peeping-Tom forays—"this was his favorite Collection, because it was full of Lucinda." Well, we readers weren't born yesterday, so clearly it's not him. The second narrative perspective belongs to another classmate, Jade, who hates Lucinda for all the reasons any overweight, unhappy, smart teen with an abusive drunk for a mother would hate the most popular girl in school and her Norman Rockwell family. Hopefully that voodoo ritual she performed didn't actually work. Third narrator: a cop named Russ, who is obsessed with Cameron's dad, his former partner, not around anymore for some ominous reason which is withheld from the reader for far too long considering it turns out to be irrelevant. Though section titles indicate that the bulk of the action happens over a three-day period, with a denouement weeks later, it feels like much longer. Once you've got a murder mystery plot, you can only spend so much time inside people's heads, going over the same ground. This 24-year-old writer needs to rein in the prose and crank up the plot. We'll be watching. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
When they told him Lucinda Hayes was dead, Cameron thought of her shoulder blades and how they framed her naked spine, like a pair of static lungs.
They called an assembly. The teachers buzzed against the far wall of the gymnasium, checking their watches and craning their necks. Cameron sat next to Ronnie in the top corner of the bleachers. He bit his fingernails and watched everyone spin about. His left pinky finger, already cracked and dry, began to bleed around the cuticle.
“What do you think this is for?” Ronnie said. Ronnie never brushed his teeth in the morning. There were zits around the corners of his mouth, and they were white and full at the edges. Cameron leaned away.
Principal Barnes stood at the podium on the half-court line, adjusting his jacket. The ninth-grade class snapped their gum and laughed in little groups, hiking up their backpacks and squeaking colorful shoes across the gymnasium floor.
“Can everyone hear me?” Principal Barnes said, hands on each side of the podium. He brushed a line of sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, squeezed his eyes shut.
“Jefferson High School is in the midst of a tragedy,” Principal Barnes said. “Last night, we were forced to say good-bye to one of our most gifted students. It is with regret that I inform you of the passing of your classmate, Miss Lucinda Hayes.”
The microphone shrieked, crackled.
In the days following, Cameron would remember this as the moment he lost her. The hum of the overhead fluorescent lights created a rhythm in time with the whispers that blossomed from every direction. If this moment were a song, Cameron thought, it would be a quiet song—the sort of song that drowned you in your own miserable chest. It was stunning and tender. It dropped, it shattered, and Cameron could only feel the weight of this melody, this song that felt both crushing and delicate.
“Fuck,” Ronnie whispered. The song built and built and built, a steady rush.
It took Cameron six more seconds to notice that no one had a face.
He leaned over the edge of the bleachers and vomited through the railings.
Last night: Almond eyes glaring out onto the lawn. A pink palm spread wide on Lucinda’s bedroom window screen. The clouds overhead, moving in fast, a gray sheet shaken out over midnight suede.
“The nurse said you threw up,” Mom said when she picked him up, later that afternoon.
Cameron nudged the crushed crackers and lint on the carpet of the minivan, pushing them into small mountains with the side of his snow boot. Mom took a sip of coffee from her travel mug.
After the initial drama had simmered down, everyone had gathered outside the gymnasium to speculate. The baseball boys said she was raped. The loser girls said she killed herself. Ronnie had agreed. She probably killed herself, don’t you think? She was always writing in that journal. I bet she left a note. Dude, your fucking throw-up is on my shoe.
“Cameron,” Mom tried again, three streets later. She was using her sympathetic voice. Mom had the sort of sympathetic voice that Cameron hated—it seeped from her throat in sugary spurts. He hated to imagine his sadness inside her. Mom didn’t deserve any of it.
“I know this is hard. This shouldn’t happen to people your age— especially not to girls like Lucinda.”
Cameron rested his forehead against the frosted window. He wondered if a forehead print was like a fingerprint. It was probably less identifiable, because foreheads weren’t necessarily different from person to person, un- less you were looking at the print on a microscopic level, and how often did people take the time for that?
He wondered how it would feel to kiss someone through glass. He’d seen a movie once about a guy who kissed his wife through a jail visitation- room window and he’d wondered if that felt like a real kiss. He thought a kiss was more about the intention than the act, so it hardly mattered if saliva hit glass or more saliva.
Since he was thinking about lips, he was thinking about Lucinda Hayes and hating himself, because Lucinda Hayes was dead.
When they got home, Mom sat him down on the couch. She turned on the television. Get your mind off things. She emptied a can of chicken noodle soup into a bowl, but over the whir of the microwave, the voice of the news anchor blared.
“Tragedy struck in northern Colorado this morning, where the body of a fifteen-year-old girl was discovered on an elementary-school playground. The victim has been identified as Lucinda Hayes, a ninth-grade student at Jefferson High School. The staff member who made the horrific find offered no comment. The investigation will continue under the direction of Lieutenant Timothy Gonzalez of the Broomsville Police Department. Civilians are encouraged to report any suspicious behavior.”
Lucinda’s eighth-grade yearbook photo smiled down from the corner of the television screen, her face flat and pixelated. The remote dropped from Cameron’s hand to the coffee table—the back popped off, and three AAA batteries rolled noisily along the table and onto the carpet.
“Cameron?” Mom called from the kitchen.
He knew that park, the elementary school down the block. It was just behind their cul-de-sac, halfway between his house and Lucinda’s.
Before Mom could reach him, Cameron was stumbling down the hall, opening his bedroom door. He couldn’t be bothered to turn on the lights— he was ripping the sheets off his bed, he was pulling his sketchbook and charcoals and kneaded eraser from their hiding spot beneath his mattress.
He ripped out the sketchbook pages one by one and spread them in a circle around his bedroom floor. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark of his room, but when they did, he was surrounded by Lucinda Hayes.
In most of the drawings, she was happy. In most of the drawings, it was sunny, and one side of her face was lighter than the other. The left, always the left. In most of the drawings, she was smiling wholly—not like in the yearbook photo, where the photographer caught her before she was herself.
Lucinda’s face was easy to draw from memory. Her cheekbones were high and bright. The lines near Lucinda’s mouth gave her the appearance of effortless happiness. Her lashes were thick and winged outward, so if Cameron skewed the shape of her eyes or set them too deep beneath her brow line, you could still tell it was Lucinda. In most of the drawings, her mouth was open in laughter; you could see the gap between her two front teeth. Cameron loved that gap. It unclothed her.
Cameron pressed his eyes to his kneecaps. He could not look at Lucinda like this because he had missed her most important parts: The way her legs flew out when she ran, from all those years of ballet. How her hair got frizzy at the front when she walked home from school in the heat. The way she sat at her kitchen table after school, listening to music on her shiny pink MP3 player, drumming white-painted fingernails against the marble. He always imagined she listened to oldies because he thought they fit her. Little bitty pretty one. Cameron had missed the way she squinted when she couldn’t see the board in class, the creases at the corners of her eyes like plastic blinds she had opened to let in the sunlight.
He couldn’t look at Lucinda like this because now she was dead, and all he had were the useless things—a smeared charcoal iris. A pinky finger drawn quickly, slightly too thin.
“Oh God, Cam,” Mom whispered from the doorway. “Oh, God.”
Mom stood with her hands on the doorframe, taking in his ring of drawings, looking like she might crumple. Her pink, striped sweater looked fake and sad, and Cameron wanted to melt her right into him so she wouldn’t look so old. The way Mom’s hands clung to the doorframe reminded Cameron of when he was a kid and Mom did ballet in the basement. She used the dirty windowsill as a barre and put her Mozart tapes in the cassette player. She whispered to herself. And one and two and three and four. Jeté, jeté, pas de bourrée. Cameron watched through the railing of the basement stairs. Her old back never straightened, and her old toes never pointed, and she looked like a bird with a body of broken bones. It made him sad to watch her dance because she looked so fragile and so expressive and so happy and so fragmented, all at once. Mom looked like herself when she danced; he had always thought so.
Cameron wanted to tell Mom that he was sorry for all of this. But he could not, because of the horrified way she was looking at his collection of Lucinda.
Cameron put his head back on his knees and kept it there until he was sure Mom had gone.