Title: You Know What You Have To Do
Author: Bonnie Shimko
Amazon Children’s Publishing
Rating: 2.5 / 5
This quirky, appealing YA novel turns formulaic teen fiction on its head as funny, feisty fifteen year-old Mary-Magdalene Feigenbaum (otherwise known as Maggie) suddenly faces more than the usual typical YA concerns: a voice in her head that is telling her to kill people. Not just anyone—each time the target is someone who has done something terrible to a person Maggie cares for. You know what you have to do, the voice commands. Maggie struggles to resist, but the voice is relentless.
With rising suspense, this story of psychological horror introduces a narrator whose own unique voice and irreverent humor are unforgettable—an unlikely hero fighting a desperate battle against incomprehensible evil. (goodreads.com)
A copy of this book was generously provided to me by the publisher via netgalley. All opinions herein are mine and were not influenced by the author or publisher in any way.
This book was definitely not for me. Maybe it’s because I’m not in it’s target audience. Certainly, had I read this book 10 years ago (I’m in my late 20’s now), I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. After sitting through countless critical reading courses and a few psychology courses (necessary for my degree ‘n all), I can safely say that what would be an enjoyable read for a teen turned into a nightmare for an adult.
First, however, let’s talk about what I did like.
I absolutely love the adults. I felt horribly sorry for both Roxie and Lonnie Kraft. Roxie, because she got the short end of the stick, so to speak, after she got pregnant with Maggie. Her parents died, her former boyfriend (Lonnie) ended up in the pen for killing his mother, and she was stuck in a loveless marriage with someone 30+ years her senior, all so she could provide for a baby she wasn’t ready to have. I felt immensely sorry for her and her situation, and in a weird, disconnected way, for Maggie, because she just doesn’t know.
I actually really liked Dr. Scott, too. Maggie spends a lot of time crushing on him, but once you actually ignore her blather about marrying him and adding feminine touches to his house (like curtains), he’s actually not that bad a guy. He even -gasp- calls her out on lying blatantly to him. It was at this point in the novel that I thought maybe I could take some of it seriously, but definitely not all of it.
Shimko’s writing flows well, also. While there’s a bit of a disconnect between Maggie, who is our (definitely) unreliable narrator, and the reader, Shimko writes Maggie’s views well and doesn’t hold back.
But that’s about as far as the things I liked goes. So let’s talk about the things I didn’t like, because it’s actually only a couple of things, but for me, they’re major.
At one point in the novel, Maggie goes out on a date with this guy from school, Jacob, who proceeds to feel her up in the back of the movie theater, and has the nerve to get mad when she tells him ‘no’. (Personal opinion time: I actually like sitting in the back of the theater for reasons unrelated to getting felt up, which includes no children as well as an ability to see the screen better.) Maggie complains to her friend, Abigail, who’s been reading a bunch of those teen mags that actually have really terrible advice. Abigail proceeds to tell Maggie that she “asked for it” (in other words, of course, but that phrase stands). Actually, what she said can’t be paraphrased. Here it is:
“Well, no wonder. You never sit in the back row unless you mean business. It gives a guy permission to do whatever he wants.” … “Whatever Jacob did isn’t his fault. You gave him mixed signals.” (p 128 from the digital ARC)
Um, no. No, Abigail, it doesn’t. This is victim-blaming in the worst way. At best, Abigail has been lead to believe this by her teen mags (like Cosmo and Redbook, which give ok hair tips, but nothing else worth reading, especially articles related to anything relationship or sex); at worst, Abigail has been lead to believe this by her parents, friends, and anyone else that keeps telling her that. But what bugs me is that no one bothers to correct her. No one says, “It’s really not your fault, Maggie.” No one tells Abigail it’s “not her fault”, either, when she has her own boy-related issues later in the novel.
The victim-blaming doesn’t fly with me, at all, and it’s a subject that has to be touched carefully in books. I don’t mind it when it’s utilized well and ends up actually having a happy ending, but perpetuating the cycle is a sore spot for me, even as someone who’s never been a victim.
Another thing I couldn’t stand was Maggie’s treatment of pretty much everyone around her, with the exception of her dog. She doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of friendship, or family. She constantly thinks badly of everyone around her (including going so far as to call someone she doesn’t even know a “slut”, just to appease Abigail, only to deny friendship with Abigail). She calls Abigail “frog face” because she wears a retainer at the beginning of the novel. She constantly refers to Roxie as being “easy” (mostly because she doesn’t know Roxie’s story with Lonnie, and she is constantly fueled by rumors floating around her small town about Roxie, but she doesn’t bother digging for the truth, and when it finally comes out, she still refers to Roxie as easy.)
Maggie as a character bothered me, truthfully. I don’t really know where the author was going with her as a character, if she intended for her to be experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, or if it was something else entirely. Nothing much actually happens in the book except Maggie goes around killing people, and cleaning up after herself. So here’s the thing: if this is supposed to be Maggie experiencing what would later be diagnosed as schizophrenic symptoms (not necessarily the disorder itself, but she does display auditory hallucinations), I have a hard time believing it. If, on the other hand, it’s intended as a commentary on the human condition (or just the teenage condition) and the nature of good and evil, it’s a big bogged down in all the teenage melodrama.
But what bugged me the most? I felt like there was no plot. Oh, sure things happened. But to what end? I felt like it wasn’t a complete story–I was left reading what was 5 of 6 total chapters, and the last one happened to be lost somewhere. Nothing happens to Maggie. At least two (possibly three) people know she’s killed someone, and no one does anything about it. Yes, she’s killed bad people. But the vigilante angle that Maggie tries to work doesn’t do so well, and I find it hard to believe that cops aren’t suspicious of (at least) three deaths in such a small period of time in a small town. Really, I wanted Maggie to be caught. I wanted the story to come full circle, and at least have closure, but I, as a reader, was denied.
So over-all, I’m actually fence-sitting almost exactly half-way between liking it and not liking it. As I said before, if I’d been 10 years younger, I’d probably have really enjoyed it. But as an adult? Not so much. Definitely recommending to teens who want a quick read that’s different from normal faire.