Book Review: The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight
Goodreads Description: It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help.
Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself.
This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice: she has to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.
But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?
My Review: I was given a copy of the Outliers by Goldberg McDuffie Communications in exchange for an honest review.
The Outliers is a novel that sits somewhere between contemporary, mystery, and thriller, which makes it a unique beast. The story begins with Wylie, who in the wake of her mother’s death has been left deeply anxious and agoraphobic. She receives a text message from her estranged friend, Cassie, asking for help-- and not to tell her mother or police. The mystery mounts as Wylie makes her way out into the wilderness with Jasper, Cassie’s boyfriend, in the hopes to get Cassie out of whatever trouble she has landed herself in. But they have no idea what kind of danger they’re headed towards, and worse yet, Cassie's texts grow more frantic before going silent-- making Jasper and Wylie fear the worst.
First off, holy pacing, Batman! It doesn’t lie when it says it kicks off right from the start and moves with a pretty rapid pace. The pacing worked fairly well mostly because it was spaced out with flashbacks to give more context to what was going on. Throughout the book, the flashbacks did add a vital piece, but I found the beginning the book was a little bogged down with these flashbacks and info-dumps. There’s a lot of info that the reader needs before they’re “up to speed” with Wylie and can continue with the plot, but I felt like it could have been handled a little better, as I was beginning to bore of the author spelling out Cassie and Wylie’s entire backstory before the action even began.
My main issue when it comes to the book has to do with Wylie, our main character. It was nice to see anxiety represented through her, and she does an excellent job of growing throughout the course of the book. That said, I can’t stand Wylie as a character. At the beginning of the book, she is completely negative. I couldn’t find a single thing that she looked positively on (except her mother, and the fact that she was dead didn’t shine a positive light on things). Even when it came to her friends, to Cassie and Jasper, she could only find negative things to say about them, even with her internal narration. I get that she’s supposed to have some mental health issues, but even the most mentally ill people have things that they like, people they like, places they feel more comfortable in. Because Wylie didn’t tell us a single thing she actually enjoys, it was nearly impossible to connect with her.
Wylie’s demeanour improves throughout the action, as she says, she’s “better in a crisis,” which is completely believable. When in intense crisis situations, survival instincts take over, and even those who feel hopeless can find strength to push through. But it seemed like the author wanted Wylie’s growth to overshadow her negative attitude. And while her negatively lightened up by the end, she was still highly judgmental, pessimistic, and generally unlikeable. She snapped at Jasper I don’t know how many times throughout the book, never says a single nice thing to him, and yet at the end they’re holding hands. Yes, being together in a crisis will help them grow closer, but at the end of the day, when the crisis is over, Wylie is still a dick. And it makes no sense why Jasper puts up with it, other than he's a sucker for punishment.
The one redeeming thing she does throughout the book-- her insistence to be a “good friend” and save Cassie-- doesn’t even feel genuine. It feels like she only goes along so she can judge Cassie for her poor choices. Cassie even mentions this-- that Wylie just came to judge her-- and yet Wylie doesn’t do a thing to convince her otherwise. It seems to me the only reason Wylie left the house in the first place was so she could dole out a bunch of “I told you so” and generally feel superior to Cassie. Other readers may not have a problem with Wylie’s character, and I generally consider myself pretty forgiving when it comes to flaws and unlikeable characters, but I literally could find nothing redeeming about the main character. Normally I’m complaining when a main character has too few flaws, but the reverse is true too-- there’s gotta be something likeable about a character if you’re spending a whole story with them.
Despite my grievance with Wylie, I was really impressed with how the plot was handled and how things were revealed. It was a very strong mystery and kept me guessing as to what kind of trouble they would find themselves in. However, there was still a lot of things I could see coming, like the villain’s identity, but it was a very solid plot all together. The book read like a “Chosen One” fantasy tale without any of the fantasy. So if you’re longing for a good old YA archetypical Chosen One with a bit of a realistic spin, this would definitely be the book for you. There are a lot of “take backs” in that something will be established and then later on revealed to be untrue, which I can see some readers growing frustrated with. But all in all, the story fit together really nicely and I really enjoyed this quick-paced, intense ride that takes you by the hand and doesn’t let go.
TL;DR: All in all, 3/5 stars. I’d probably punch Wylie if I ever met her in person, but the mystery and plot make this a solid read.