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Book: “Never Coming Home” by Kate Williams
Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, June 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: The beach read you have been dying for! When ten of America’s hottest teenage influencers are invited to an exclusive island resort, things are sure to get wild. But murder isn’t what anyone expected. Will anyone survive?
Everyone knows Unknown Island—it’s the world’s most exclusive destination. Think white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and luxury accommodations. Plus, it’s invite only, no one over twenty-one allowed, and it’s absolutely free. Who wouldn’t want to go?
After launching with a showstopping viral marketing campaign, the whole world is watching as the mysterious resort opens its doors to the First Ten, the ten elite influencers specifically chosen to be the first to experience everything Unknown Island has to offer. You know them. There’s the gamer, the beauty blogger, the rich girl, the superstar, the junior politician, the environmentalist, the DJ, the CEO, the chef, and the athlete.
What they don’t know is that they weren’t invited to Unknown Island for their following—they were invited for their secrets. Everyone is hiding a deadly one, and it looks like someone’s decided it’s payback time. Unknown Island isn’t a vacation, it’s a trap. And it’s beginning to look like the First Ten—no matter how influential—are never coming home.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I have various weaknesses in my entertainment, and one of those weaknesses is how I love to revel in schadenfreude of people who are kind of assholes. Especially if said assholes have influence and power and could stand to be knocked down a few pegs. I absolutely devoured both Fyre Festival documentaries and thoroughly enjoyed watching start up scam dramas like “The Dropout” and “WeCrashed”. So when I read about “Never Coming Home” by Kate Williams, and how it was taking a number of influencers, luring them to a remote island with a promise of luxury and a status resort, and then picking them off one by one because of their secrets, I was so interested. But once I started reading it, I realized that this wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be. Which was super disappointing.
I’ll start with the positives. Namely, as someone who appreciates a good slasher movie with some creativity under its belt, “Never Coming Home” has some really gnarly kills. Why limit oneself to mere poisonings and moments that could be accidents when you could use bees (VERY “Sleepaway Camp”), or full on mutilation, or explosive bodily fluids out of various orifices (admittedly, I did not care for this one as it was way gross)? Williams clearly had a fun time thinking of nasty deaths for the various nasty players, and that I can and will tip my hat off to. And there is so much potential here. The whole concept of Influencers being taken to a Fyre Festival-esque hoax that is really a trap to pick each of them off is just SO tantalizing!
But now let’s talk about the negatives. Firstly, the characters. I know that there are definitely limitations on how much attention you can pay to each character in a “And Then There Were None” kind of story, since you have a big victim pool and only so many pages unless you want to go “War and Peace” in terms of length. But in “Never Coming Home”, I didn’t feel like I got to know anyone very well, and what we did see were very two dimensional and tropey characterizations for almost everyone. You had the cartoon villainy of a scheming CEO to the poor little princess rich girl to the superstar with more depth than people realize, and with maybe one or two exceptions, none of them stretched beyond their archetypes. No one was very likable or even fun to hate, and since they all get picked off one by one it felt like a slasher movie cast but without the suspense. Even a good slasher movie will give you something in SOME of the characters so that you have investment in them while others are just there to be meat sacks. This book didn’t give us much of that. I know that I’m absolutely not the target audience, but I would like to give teen readers a little more credit than this.
I also had a hard time suspending a lot of my disbelief when it came to some of these characters and their influencer, well, influence. They’re all under twenty but are wunderkinds in one way or another in ways that feel half baked. Be it the woman-centric email start up to the character who was listed as being a former Minneapolis City Council member on the ‘cast of characters’ reference page (and he’s under twenty?! IN WHAT WARD I ASK YOU? There’s been a LOT about the Minneapolis City Council and its dynamics and members in the news here in the Metro as of late and I just don’t believe this kid pulled a Ben Wyatt in MINNEAPOLIS), I couldn’t swallow it. I just couldn’t. Perhaps had they been aged up a bit it would have rang more true, but then it wouldn’t fit as a YA novel, I suppose.
And finally, I hate it when a book feels a need to just write the entire solution out instead of showing us the way. And “Never Coming Home” has an entire last section that does exactly that. It just spells out who the killer is, how they got away with it, and what their motivation was. I’m not saying that I needed a villain monologue or anything like that, but this is the second “And Then There Were None” retelling that did this. Given that I haven’t read “And Then There Were None” I could be missing something. Is that how the solution comes through in “And Then There Were None”? That could be more forgivable if so, but the problem is that it still feels like a great big info dump that brings the story’s pacing to a screeching halt.
“Never Coming Home” was a big ol’ let down. Again, I’m not the target audience so I very well may be missing the mark here, and it may go over better with others. But I was just disappointed by this one.
Rating 4: This just didn’t work for me. Between the underdeveloped characters and the overdone premise it failed to capture my interest.
“Never Coming Home” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “‘And Then There Were None’ Trope Novels”.