Tuesday, June 21, 2016

With Malice » Book Review

I may have to retire YA suspense and thrillers for good, and With Malice is partially to blame.

The problem is, so much of the content of these books deals in teen drama and angst, and I'm officially in my mid-to-late twenties now.  I'm less compelled by high school power politics than ever before. I'm almost a decade removed from that time of my life.

Tastes change.  For instance, as a teen, I thought Twilight was incredible and carried a copy of it around with me at school to read and reread before classes.  Now, I keep a sentimental copy of my shelf to remind me of my past, but I never actually go back and visit it.

I don't see myself quitting YA anytime soon.  But I am reevaluating my allegiance.

Interestingly enough, here's what I wrote in February about the sample chapters of With Malice that I received in my Buzz Books sampler: I’m very conflicted about these sample chapters.  On the one hand, it sets up an intriguing story, one that plays on a number of classic noir films and thrillers.  On the other hand, I was not a fan of the style or the tone or the writing. Nor was I jumping up and down over the petty, high school drama that saturated the excerpt.

There we have it, folks.

With Malice and the Trials of Amanda Knox

There was a redeeming quality about the book, however.  That is the homage it pays to the darkly fascinating Amanda Knox case. Without a shadow of a doubt, With Malice is a complete and total reference to this famous story.

In the novel, our protagonist, Jill, loses her memory of the car accident that killed her best friend, Simone, while the two were studying abroad in Italy.  All signs point to Jill being guilty of crashing the car purposefully.  The Italian police certainly seem to think so and go after her with tenacity. Meanwhile, news reports about the case are gripping the world and everyone has an opinion over whether or not Jill killed Simone.  As the story begins, we see that public favor has turned against Jill, in an ugly way.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="294"]kercher knox Amanda Knox on the left. Meredith Kercher on the right.[/caption]

As for the real life case that inspired With Malice...

Amanda Knox, a U.S. citizen, was studying abroad in Italy when her roommate, Meredith Kercher, was terribly murdered in their apartment. This happened in 2007. The Italian police and the country's corrupt justice system zeroed in on Amanda, latching onto her like a starving dog on a juicy bone. Dubbed "Foxy Knoxy" by the international media, Amanda was branded as Meredith's killer before she even had a chance to defend herself. Italy convicted her, despite their utter dearth of DNA evidence.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="222"]foxy knoxy amanda knox Amanda was maligned by the press, dubbed "Foxy Knoxy" as a reference to her supposed manipulative and sexual personality.[/caption]

Amanda spent  four years in Italian prison before an appeals court overturned her conviction. Then, after she'd returned home at long last, the Italian courts REVERSED HER AQUITTAL. This never would have happened in the U.S. because of double jeopardy laws, but in Italy things are different. Largely behind this reversal was Giuliano Mignini, a world-infamous prosecutor dubbed "The Monster of Florence," who was after Amanda's blood.

On her home turf, facing forcible extradition, Amanda fought backI remember seeing her on the news, clawing to change the public opinion of herself.  She won the day.  Not only was she not extradited, but in 2015, after years of horrible suspense, an "ultimate appeal" was decided in Amanda's favor, ending the case for good.

There are still people out there who are fervently convinced of Amanda's guilt, and that is a true testament to the power of media spin and resultant crowd mentality.

Readers, do you remember the initial "Foxy Knoxy" newswave? Do you recall the aftermath and the gradual reversal of public opinion?

Who Exactly Is the Antagonist In With Malice?

Just like the Amanda Knox case, our main characterJill, is facing many antagonistic forces.  It's easy to assume that her Number One Enemy is the Italian police, but I'd argue for a different culprit. From the very beginning of the novel, and throughout the story, Jill is countered by the public opinion of the world.

In fact, one of the most distinctive aspects of With Malice are the chorus of voices that end each chapter in the form of interview transcripts, internet articles, blog comments, news reports, and more.  They all have an opinion to share about Jill's supposed guilt or innocence. With the flux of the public's opinion, so sways Jill's chances of staying out of jail and living in the world without recrimination.

This aspect of With Malice — the complex and unique antagonistic force — was the best part of the book.  Like we learned from the Amanda Knox case, public favor can affect criminal proceedings in massive ways. I appreciated that With Malice had a distinct point to make on this subject.

What's the Bottom Line?

The bottom line is, With Malice had some great, fundamental aspects to it.  However, I hated the way those lines were colored in, with Jill's juvenile, mall-rat voice and the importance placed on catty high school drama. I'm over it. Ultimately, I don't recommend With Malice.  

[rating stars="two-stars"]

Readers, I'm always up to being proven wrong when it comes to books! What are the best YA suspense/thrillers you can recall reading or hearing about?


  1. Interesting this is so closely related, I had no idea. That weirdly enough almost makes me want to read it. :P

  2. You should! I know a lot of reviewers are liking this one more than I did, so I think I do have the unpopular opinion here!

  3. I was no way interested in this book no matter how efficient the marketing wheels were trying to spin it. So I'm glad I stuck to my guts.

  4. I had no idea that With Malice was being marketed hard! But yeah, I say stick to adult-level thrillers — much grittier and less insufferable.

  5. Wow I didn't know the book was so close to the Amanda Knox case. I only know of the case so that's interesting to know. Sorry you didn't like this one more! I found the social media aspects really interesting to read about :)

  6. Yeah, I was pretty obsessed with the Amanda Knox trials so I picked up on it like that. *snaps* But no, I'M sorry I didn't like it more! I hate it when my book blogging friends like a book and I didn't. It makes me feel overly picky, even discriminatory!

  7. This makes me want to read more about the Amanda Knox case!

  8. Knox has a memoir out (which I read a while back), and quite a few journalists have written some investigative books! And then there's Google, which is a total rabbit hole...

  9. I remember that case - I had no idea that this book had ties to that case....huh!

  10. Oh yes. Italy, murder, young women, extradition, public outcry, internet obsession... it's all there.

  11. […] suspenseful, psychological thriller. Ellen already wrote up an excellent review a little while ago (HERE). I didn’t have much to add, so I thought a mini-review would work out […]