I was contacted by Chronicle's marketing manager to review this title - and I'll admit, the snarky part of me responded because the publicity information straight up calls this "A real-world mystery (no vamps or werewolves)." Not that I necessarily dislike vampires or werewolves (in fact, I have a couple of werewolf books to review in the next two weeks), but I'm always amused by backlash against whatever's dominating popular culture at the moment (example: my favorite shirt in middle school was a T-shirt that said "The boat sank. Get over it." For you whippersnappers reading this, that was the Titanic equivalent of saying Buffy should stake Edward).
Evie is the classic definition of a loner. She's on the fringes of the social strata at school, going so far as to sit with a group of girls during lunch, but never really being with them. She still has her paper route, making her one of the oldest paper delivery kids in the area, but she doesn't mind, especially as the job lets her sneak brief moments with Jonah Luks, who collects the dead animals that naturally accumulate in the woods behind a swanky housing development.
Just when Evie is ready to finally start actually talking with Jonah - maybe even acting on her fantasy to start dating him - Jonah makes a terrible discovery in the woods: a dead girl. Evie sees Jonah call for the police, and sees them pull the body out of the woods, but it isn't until later that she learns the girl was Zabet, a classmate and childhood friends. The girls weren't lose anymore, as friendships don't always last through the pains of growing up, but Evie is, to say the least, freaked out.
The tension begins when Evie meets Zabet's father at Zabet's funeral - and Evie lies, saying that she was one of Zabet's friends. The distraught man latches onto Evie and Hadley, Zabet's real best friend, bringing the two girls together in an uneasy alliance as they try to comfort Zabet's dad. Hadley knows Evie lied, but, after a moment of discomfort, goes along with the lie, spinning stories that pull Evie into Zabet's life, and convincing Evie that the two of them need to track down Zabet's murderer - even if it means investigating every man they've ever met.
This is a story that starts out quite slowly. Evie is shy and quiet and spends so much time on the periphery prior to the discovery of Zabet's body that it's hard to picture her as a compelling protagonist. All of that changes, however, once the erratic Hadley enters the story, pulling Evie into one chaotic scheme and conspiracy theory after another. Hadley obviously has some problems, but it's impossible to tell whether they existed before Zabet's death, or if her wild behavior is a symptom of her grief. And poor Evie, desperate for attention and affection from someone, anyone, is at first a willing participant in Hadley's adventures - until she's sucked in so deeply that even if she wanted to extricate herself from the relationship, she doesn't feel she can any more.
Also, I have to highlight how awesome this cover is. It doesn't come across at all in the online images, but the cover is actually laser cut, so the hard cover is just the black silhouettes of the trees, and the title is written on pearlescent purple paper on the cover page. Definitely stunning.