The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn
Read: July 27 – September 1, 2016
Format: ARC Ebook (Penguin First Reads)
My Book Rating: 2 Stars
Genre: YA Contemporary / Mystery / Thriller
ABOUT THE BOOK
Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.
17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.
Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.
The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.
And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.
As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.
I received an ARC of this book from Penguin First Reads in exchange for an honest review.
Basic premise: 17-year-old Arman has a crappy home life and is convinced that he screws everything up. He gets invited to go to this “retreat” by the groups leader, a charismatic father figure named Beau. Arman is led to believe he’s special, but then Beau is gone and Arman has holes in his memory. He’s been injured and doesn’t know how. He’s convinced Beau is dead, but the body is gone. Was it suicide? Did Arman kill him?
First things first, I wanted to read this book because I was convinced this “retreat” is really a cult. (It basically is.) I was intrigued. This is a step outside my normal reading box. And I enjoyed the journey. But this book did not leave me feeling satisfied. It left me wondering what I was supposed to take away. There was a conclusion in the end, we find out what really happened, but… I can’t figure out what the purpose of Arman’s journey was. There was a bunch of philosophical thoughts and ideas, and they just went over my head, I can’t imagine the average teenager taking away what the author meant, if she meant for them to take anything away.
There were also sections of text (un-numbered chapters if you will) in all italics, and I don’t know what it was. I think it was Beau talking to… someone? Maybe Arman? But maybe not? I didn’t get the purpose of it. I need someone to explain it to me!
In the end, this was a very strange book. It was mostly enjoyable, especially when I started to question EVERYTHING, including Arman’s sanity. I can’t give it more than 2 stars though because while the writing was very good, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, and as I mentioned above, I just can’t figure out what I was supposed to take away from this book.
I’ve read other reviews of this book mention this being the authors strangest book yet, so I would consider checking out one of her other books, because she does have a compelling writing style.
Get the The Smaller Evil here:
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Faith is an investment, you tell her, when you see she doesn’t understand. You bargain now for what you hope matters later.
“You know what my father used to tell me about fear?”
“‘You only fear what you believe will kill you, never what will.’”
Dale stared at him. Then: “Your dad sounds like a dick.”
“Because always taking the easy route means forgetting there could be others. Maybe better ones. You can’t know unless you try.”
“What’s the doctrine of double effect?”
“It’s a philosophical principle that states an immoral act can sometimes be considered moral if the greater good outweighs the smaller evil.”
“Which would you rather believe in: a bad truth or a good lie?”