A few months ago I read Stephanie Kuehn’s riveting and devastating YA novel Charm & Strange so I was pretty excited to read Complicit. Also YA, Complicit is the story of siblings Jamie and Cate Henry, who have lived for a decade with their foster parents after their young mother is killed in mysterious drug-related circumstances. As a teen, Cate did some pretty bad things and she’s spent the last couple of years in juvie. To say Jamie and Cate are estranged would be an understatement.
Jamie is now sixteen. He’s an awesome piano player; he’s got a thing for a girl at school which seems to be reciprocated; he has a pretty good life. It’s not all sunshine and roses though: he has huge gaps in his memory, he sometimes blacks out and out of nowhere he loses all feeling in his hands, a condition for which there seems to be no explanation. Then Cate gets out of jail and starts calling him.
I have no proof it was Cate who called, but what if?…I can definitely see her calling me on a throwaway phone in the dead of night. That’d be Cate all the way.
Complicit reads like a psychological thriller where you’re just waiting for all the pieces to click into place. Told in Jamie’s anxious, confused voice, the reader is given a glimpse into his past when his relationship with Cate wasn’t quite so hostile. As kids, Cate was “precocious. Outgoing. Spunky.” As a teenager, though, she seemed angry and wild, “her jeans too tight. Her shirt too low. her mood too black.”
Jamie is not really interested in a reunion, but Cate is persistent. The more she calls him, the more Jamie feels compelled to follow the bread crumb trail she leaves about their mother’s death and what really happened the night that the Ramirez barn was burned to the ground, the crime for which she spent time in juvenile detention.
Although he is desperate to “forget the empty ache where my mother should be, my sister’s madness, my own rotten feelings of guilt,” he can’t help but somehow feel complicit in Cate’s crimes. And Cate doesn’t seem to want to let Jamie forget anything.
Fortunately for the reader, Jamie’s story isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems. Kuehn paces her twists perfectly and although careful readers might think they’ve got it all sorted out by the time they’ve reached the novel’s shocking conclusion, I’m guessing not so much.
Another winner by Kuehn.