Nineteen-year-old Jeremy Long hasn't spoken a word since he was nine years old. He'll write to you, but he won't speak.
But when he's accused of the brutal murder of one of the most adored men in his small Ohio town—high school baseball coach John Johnson—he stops writing, too.
The police force considers it an open-and-shut case—Jeremy, after all, was spotted fleeing the crime scene with a bloody baseball bat—and the defense attorney feels that the insanity defense is their best bet. Even Jeremy's mother thinks he's guilty, and that a mental facility would be the best place for him. (Not that she'd be any help anyway, as she's usually either drunk or hungover.)
All of this adds up to one thing: his younger sister, Hope, feels like she's the only one interested in clearing his name. With help from her friend T.J., and maybe even from the sheriff's son Chase (who happens to be the guy she's been crushing on from afar for months), she sets out to do so... but as her brother's trial is already in progress, the clock is ticking.
The mystery: The Big Twist leapt out at me about 2/3s of the way in, so that reveal wasn't a shock for me, but I did like that it made the whole story even more of a tragedy than I'd expected it to be. (Why that pleased me, I don't know. Maybe because I don't run across Real Tragedy in murder mysteries all that often? Not counting, like, Scandinavian ones.) While the Twist wasn't a total surprise, I was surprised by the identity of the murderer, likewhoa.
The characters: Hope's a likable heroine: because of the way she and Jeremy have grown up, he comes before anything and anyone, and that never changes, even when she Finds Lurrrve. From beginning to end, Jeremy remains somewhat of an enigma, but that wasn't problematic: he didn't get much screen time, after all, and because he doesn't directly communicate with anyone for the majority of the book, everything we know about him comes through Hope's narration and perspective. The explanation for his jar collecting is rather lovely, though. As for the other boys... T.J. is a Still Waters kind of guy, while Chase is a Mr. Swoonypants Picnic Planner, but I never felt that I got to know either of them any better than that.
I actually developed stronger feelings about the adults than about the teenagers: Hope and Jeremy's mother deserves a special place in the YA Fiction Bad Parent Hall of Fame*, and even hours after finishing the book, as far as I'm concerned, the sheriff can go jump in a lake.
The writing: There were some great, double-take sort of lines in here, like:
That's what I remember seeing on the black shirt of one of Rita's girlfriends during her trial for solicitation, which is one fancy way of looking at that job.
But there was also some infodumping (this is off the top of his head, here):
"That's true," T.J. says. "Spouses are the number one suspect in any murder. One-third of female homicide victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Some say fifty-three percent of murders were done by spouses, but most of them got off."
And sometimes, when the characters are relating stories to each other—Hope's trial testimony, especially—their dialogue reads, oddly enough, like the speakers are narrating a book with a plethora of adjectives. If it'd only been Hope who spoke like that, it'd have been one thing, but it threw me when I realized that pretty much everyone was doing it.
The Nutshell: I read the whole thing in one sitting, so my issues couldn't have been too problematic. I wouldn't give it to someone who's looking for an action-packed mystery, or for a particularly atmospheric one, but I'd definitely hand it to anyone looking for a YA courtroom drama. (Of which there are very few!)
*While it's understandable why she is the way she is—and, to be fair, there are moments in which is she appears to care about her kids—mostly, she's a beast.
Book source: ILLed through the publisher.