Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois

Twenty-one year old Lily Hayes is an American college student studying in Argentina. Five weeks into her exchange program, she is arrested for the murder of her roommate, fellow American student Katy Kellers. The case becomes a media sensation and Lily’s every action – from her emails to her relationships to her odd behaviour immediately after the murder – are now subject to intense scrutiny.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the real-life Amanda Knox case will recognise it as the inspiration behind this novel. Knox was an American exchange student living in Italy who was arrested for the murder of her roommate in 2009. Her trial attracted global attention, and the basic facts of her case are roughly the same as those presented in Cartwheel – though Dubois’s book, with a divergent cast of characters, is more than a straight forward retelling of Knox’s story as we know it from the press.

Cartwheel’s premise might sound like that of a mystery thriller or a whodunit, but the book is actually an intense character study. Its biggest strength is the structure, which moves from the perspective of one character to the next, allowing the reader to see events through the eyes of Lily, her father, her boyfriend, her sister and Eduardo, the investigating officer. Everyone sees Lily differently, and everyone has a different opinion on whether she is capable of murder. Secrets are revealed slowly as the narrative stretches backwards and forwards in time.

Dubois is a skilled writer and her literary talents are very much on display here. While the plotting is at times uneven, moving either too slowly or too quickly through key events, the characters in Cartwheel are consistently well-drawn and realistically complicated. This is a sophisticated novel that poses interesting questions about the darker side of human nature.

Nina Kenwood is the Online Manager for Readings.

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Jennifer DuBois

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