Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2014
Length: 380 pages
Small towns are nothing if not friendly. Friendship, Wisconsin (population: 689 688) is no different. Around here, everyone wears a smile. And no one ever locks their doors. Until, that is, high school sweetheart Ruth Fried is found murdered. Strung up like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield.

Unfortunately, Friendship’s police are more adept at looking for lost pets than catching killers. So Ruth’s best friend, Kippy Bushman, armed with only her tenacious Midwestern spirit and Ruth’s secret diary (which Ruth’s mother had asked her to read in order to redact any, you know, sex parts), sets out to find the murderer. But in a quiet town like Friendship—where no one is a suspect—anyone could be the killer.
My rating:

Ever since reading Gone Girl last winter, I've developed somewhat of a fascination with murder mysteries. So when I read the synopsis for No One Else Can Have You on Goodreads, I immediately requested a copy from my local library. Surprisingly, I didn't have to wait long at all for a copy to come in--a miracle when requesting a new book--and I immediately started reading. The beginning of the book was promising, drawing me in with the mystery of Ruth's brutal murder and her friend Kippy's grief. Before the funeral, Ruth's mother gives Kippy Ruth's diary, hoping that she may use it as inspiration for her eulogy, and then return it with all the "offensive" bits removed. But as Kippy reads through the journal, she discovers Ruth has been keeping all kinds of secrets. First, she's been cheating on her boyfriend, Colt, with a creepy, middle-aged taxidermist/lawyer, Jim Steele. And second, she's not the friend Kippy thought she was. After reading entry after scathing entry that Ruth has written about Kippy, she begins to wonder if Ruth was ever truly her friend at all. Despite this, Kippy is still determined to find out who killed Ruth and why. With the help of Ruth's brother, Davey, Kippy starts up her own murder investigation.

For about the first fifty pages, I was really interested in where this story was going. So much so that I was able to forgive the oddball behavior that seemed to afflict every character in the fictional town of Friendship. But the further I read, the more the strangeness of it all started to wear on me. For starters, when Ruth's murder is first reported in the newspaper, there is more talk about what is to be done with the crops in the field where her body was found than about the poor girl herself! Then there's Sheriff Staake, whose personal vendetta against Ruth's boyfriend Colt renders him completely blind to all the obvious evidence that shows Colt can't  be the killer. The ineptitude of the sheriff and the mob mentality taken on by the whole town was so frustrating to read that at times I wanted to throw the book at the wall.

Then there's our main character, Kippy, who I could not for the life of me connect to. Oftentimes I felt her behavior was more appropriate for a character in a children's or middle grade novel; she was very awkward and immature and sometimes just downright idiotic. At one point, she reveals to Jim Steele the incriminating information she has found in Ruth's journal and is going to use against him, and then hands it over to him so he can read it. 

Now I'm no detective, but I'm pretty sure that one of the things you definitely should not do is hand your evidence over to a potential suspect.

On her investigations, Kippy wears rainbow or animal-print turtlenecks and a utility belt, which she uses to carry a Dictaphone and Ruth's diary around with her as she investigates. This created such a ridiculous mental image that all I could picture in my head when I thought about Kippy was Sue Heck from The Middle. I honestly could not figure out if Hale was trying to write a character that we were supposed to laugh at, or if she was trying too hard to make Kippy a quirky, original character. 

Sue Heck
To be honest, I found myself asking that same question about the book as a whole. Was it meant to be over-the-top ridiculous satire of small-town Midwestern life that was just poorly executed? Or was I as a reader supposed to take the whole thing seriously? In the end, all the problematic elements of this book made it too frustrating for me to continue reading. I admit that I ended up skimming through the last third of the book because, despite all the things I didn't like about the book, I still wanted to know who Ruth's killer was (and it turned out that the prediction I made at the beginning of the book was right! So at least I had that to make me feel a little bit better about the whole reading experience).

Now I want to know: have any of you read No One Else Can Have You? What did you think of it? 

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