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by Chevy Stevens
St. Martin's Press, June 2014
370 pages
ISBN: 1250034604

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you enjoy reading about teenagers making poor choices over and over again, you'll enjoy the first half of THAT NIGHT. I did not enjoy it, finding it almost unbearably puerile. However, sticking through that first half gets the reader to the point where Toni, the first person narrator, actually starts acting like an adult and the plot line finally gets interesting. In the end, THAT NIGHT rewards the reader with a satisfying denouement.

As the book opens, alternating chapters tell the story of Toni's entering prison after being convicted of murdering her younger sister, and Toni's last few months before the murder. As an angry, goth-like eighteen-year-old year old, Toni is not a particularly sympathetic character. She is being bullied by Shauna, a Queen Bee with an appropriately fawning entourage, and Toni seems to only antagonize and encourage Shauna and her court while refusing to reach out to surrounding adults for help. Toni is in love with bad-boy Ryan, waiting impatiently for graduation and the end of the summer, when the two of them plan to move out of their parents' homes and into an apartment together. Throughout that fateful spring and summer, they make numerous poor choices, including taking Toni's younger sister, Nicole, along with them when they head to the lake for a tryst. Nicole, in contrast to Toni's dark image, is all light and smiles up until the last few weeks of her life. Something happened in those last weeks of the summer, something that led to her murder.

Toni and Ryan are arrested for Nicole's murder and are split apart (seemingly for life), as they enter prison. As the reader might expect, bullying continues in prison and, at first, Toni continues to take a "bring it on" stance. She finds a substitute mother figure in one of the older inmates, however, and matures in spite of the harsh environment. Fifteen years after entering prison, Toni, who has always claimed her innocence, is released on parole. At this point, THAT NIGHT finally gets interesting. The story of Toni's reintegration into society, even after she encounters continuing nastiness on the part of grown-up Shauna, her reconnection with Ryan, and her search for what really happened that night provide a plot that races to the suspenseful conclusion.

The entire book is told from Toni's perspective, so the reader knows only what Toni knows. And, with all the unreliable narrators out there these days, a question arises as to whether we know even that much. Stevens does a good job of sharing teenaged Toni's fear of and anger at bullying Shauna as a teenager, her sense of safety in Ryan's arms, her resentment of her goody-two-shoes sister, and her frustration at her mother's interference in her life. The author is equally adept at helping the reader understand the sense of entrapment that Toni feels during the trial, while in prison, and when faced with losing her parole. None of the supporting characters come to life as Toni does, but perhaps that is because the reader sees them only through the filter of Toni's experience of them. To the extent that Toni does not understand their motivations, neither does the reader.

In the end, and in spite of my finding it very difficult to pick the book back up during the first half when she was a teenager, I came to care about what happened to Toni. It was worth sticking with the book.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, June 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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