Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy
Published: May 7th 2013 by Simon Pulse
Source: ARC from publisher
Synopsis (Goodreads): 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 thoughts: This book punched me in the gut and broke my heart and left me feeling raw. In Nikki, McVoy has created this character who is both sympathetic and pathetic and who is both hardened by experience and still painfully naive. She is complex and contradictory and while not particularly endearing, impossible to ignore.
Nikki grew up with a stepdad in jail and a drug addict mother who showed her no affection. She gets a job on her own in a hair salon and moves in with a friend and starts to build herself a new life. She’s got a boyfriend, Dee, who fills her with desire and makes her feel loved. A boy who blinds her to his faults. A boy she’d do anything for.
The story begins in media res. It’s clear Dee has done something wrong, something bad, but Nikki’s narration only leaves clues. She doesn’t want to even think about what Dee may have done or acknowledge her part in it. She tries to act normal, and she tries to help him cover things up. It’s only much later in the story that Nikki reveals the extent of her actions and we learn what—and why—Dee committed the crime.
And all the reader can do is follow along as Nikki digs herself a deeper hole, shouting “what are you doing?!” the entire time.
McVoy perfectly captures that all-consuming, passionate love for a person who doesn’t deserve it without romanticizing the bad boy. Nikki rationalizes Dee’s condescending, rude, controlling behavior, all because of the way he makes her feel—not loved, exactly, but needed, or consumed. Even as Nikki slowly realizes her mistakes, she still has to face the consequences of her actions. There is no neat, happy ending for Nikki, but there is growth. This novel is painful, but realistic, and the voice was so authentic.
I was very impressed with how accurate and effortless the details in the story were incorporated and how nuanced the characters were. It’s clear that McVoy not only did her research, but has a knack for portraying complicated characters. The issue of race—a sometimes hot-button issue in YA—is handled perfectly. There’s hints to each character’s ethnicity, but only an attentive reader will notice the details. I rather enjoyed and admired this subtle approach, but would be interested in others reactions.
For fans of McVoy’s previous work, the gritty, darker nature of this story may come as a surprise, but the strong writing should carry them through. I thought Being Friends with Boys was a light, cute read, (my review here) but Criminal will likely make it onto my list of 2013 favorites.
I can’t think of any other books that are as well down or powerful and cover this subject matter, but two forthcoming fall titles look promising: Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin and Juvie by Steve Watkins.
Estelle at Rather be Reading: “Criminal is such a tight, well-written story yet still leaves a lot of room for discussion. I really appreciated the leaps that McVoy took with her writing this go-around; this story about power, lust, and love never felt over-dramatized or black and white.”
Hobbitsies: “Terra Elan McVoy nailed Criminal. It’s such an emotionally-wrought story full of bad decisions and confused characters and my heart just ached as I flew through it.”