"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
I can see why everyone is raving about this novel. I'll do my best to talk about it without spoiling any of the elements crucial to maintaining the suspense.
Okay, first off: writing. This, I can see, generating a mixed response, though I loved it for the most part. It's like a mix of the purple prose Tahereh Mafi used in the Shatter Me series and the sparse, tight prose that Kiersten White used in her thriller, Mind Games. Something has obviously happened to our main character, Cadence, and Lockhart shows this through several metaphors, short, snappy sentences, line breaks in the middle of sentences, and nouns as adjectives (e.g when Cadence is feeling extreme emotion, she often describes herself as bleeding all over the place; one character is described as ambition and strong coffee). And, of course, the unreliable narration, and how Cadence flips back and forth between present and past timelines. If you can handle that and it sounds appealing to you, you're basically set.
Despite this being a very tight piece, a book you've heard has lots of suspense, the plot takes a little while to kick in. First the setting and familial background has to be set. Then we're introduced to the main plot event and the mystery surrounding it. So, basically, what I'm saying is keep reading if you were unsure of the beginning; I found myself growing more and more invested as the story continued (rather than being immediately invested). This novel is probably most fun for people, like me, who couldn't guess the plot twist. Though, if you do guess the plot twist, you're still in for an emotional tale, especially since it parallels fairy tale fables with Cadence's current understanding of what happened to her and that adds quite neatly to the drama and heartbreak. The ending will probably generate some extreme response in you. I fall in the camp that likes it; if you've read the novel and wish to discuss, please mark the spoilers and I will discuss with you.
Probably my favorite aspect of the novel is not even the unpredictable ending or the thrilling undertone of the suspense. It's the way Lockhart has painted this rich, privileged family with a seemingly perfect life but one nonetheless shrouded in mystery and brokenness. Plus, you see the effects of several generations on this idyllic lifestyle. Lockhart touches on issues of race and class and sex among other topics that are ripe for discussion. The humor and sadness and waste in her discussion of privilege evoked portrayals from some of my favorite authors like Maggie Stiefvater.
Read this if you're a fan of books with unreliable narrators and familial drama and the whimsy of summer romances. Read this for a twist on the idyllic summer spent in rich beach houses. Read this and be prepared to read it again to appreciate its complexity. A thoughtful, arresting piece in YA, and perfect for book clubs.