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Book: “We’ll Never Tell” by Wendy Heard
Publishing Info: Little, Brown/Ottaviano, May 2023
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound
Book Description: An ambitious and juicy whodunit doused in Hollywood lore, perfect for readers of sexy summer thrillers like The Twin by Natasha Preston and The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson.
No one at Hollywood High knows who’s behind We’ll Never Tell—a viral YouTube channel where the anonymous creators trespass behind the scenes of LA’s most intriguing locales. The team includes CASEY, quiet researcher and trivia champ; JACOB, voice narrator and video editor, who is secretly dating EDDIE, aspiring filmmaker; and ZOE, coder and breaking-and-entering extraordinaire.
Now senior year is winding down, and with their lives heading in different directions, the YouTubers vow to go out with a bang. Their last episode will be filmed at the infamous Valentini “murder house,” which has been left abandoned, bloodstained, and untouched since a shocking murder/suicide in 1972. When the teens break in, they capture epic footage. But someone trips an alarm, and it’s a mad dash to get out before the police arrive—at which point they realize only three of them escaped instead of four. Jacob is still inside, slain and bleeding out. Is his attack connected to the historic murder, or is one of their crew responsible?
A week of suspicions and cover-ups unfolds as Casey and her remaining friends try to stay alive long enough to solve murder mysteries past and present. If they do, their friendship may not survive. If they don’t, the house will claim more victims.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!
I had been waiting for a bit (it wasn’t really that long, but anticipation can make things feel long) for a new Wendy Heard book. I had enjoyed “She’s Too Pretty To Burn” so much for it’s weirdness, it’s sapphic love story, and the satire of art as ethos and the ramifications of that. When I read that she had a new YA thriller coming out called “We’ll Never Tell” I was excited, and when I read that the premise involved an abandoned notorious crime scene and four teens caught up in something far more dangerous than they realized, I was practically vibrating with glee. And while there are a lot of great ideas with this book, and while it was a quick read that kept me going, the anticipation leading up to it kind of slammed the breaks with what we got.
But first the good. Wendy Heard is an author I have really enjoyed in the past, and I think that part of it is that she really knows how to bring seedy and shiny aspects of Los Angeles to life. There is so much potential in this story, and I loved seeing four teens with a YouTube channel focus in on what is clearly an homage to the Los Feliz Murder Mansion, a piece of Los Angeles true crime lore as the basis for a book. I also liked that we could get a few different ways to tell the story. These include protagonist Casey, some flashbacks from Jacob leading up to the night he is attacked, and some epistolary pieces of newspaper articles involving the Valentini murder, the fallout, and some other things that involve the family and the victims. I am a huge sucker for books that use newspaper articles or other found footage or information devices. And mystery wise, I did like the twists and turns of the story, as well as the mystery of who attacked Jacob in the house. Heard does a pretty okay job of laying out clues and bringing in various potential motives and means. It’s ultimately a pretty straight forward thriller, and while I didn’t totally guess what was going on, I wasn’t totally blown away by various solutions as the puzzle pieces all started falling into place.
However, I think that one of the things that didn’t quite connect for me was our protagonist, Casey. To me it felt like there were so many things about her that weren’t quite fully explored or elaborated upon. We have her as the cynical, sullen girl with the tragic past, given that her mother was murdered and it went unsolved, and she has been living with her grandmother and they have been barely holding on financially. She has a chip on her shoulder about some of her friends (mostly Zoe; Zoe is wealthy and, while well meaning, is sometimes clueless about her financial situation versus Casey’s), she really hates ‘true crime’, and she doesn’t always feel like she totally fits in with her peer group. It tended to creep a bit towards ‘not like other girls’, as there were a lot of first person perspective reminders about how no one else GETS it. I wasn’t super invested in her as a character, nor was I interested in the potential relationship she has with Dallas, a descendent of the Valentini family whose mother is owner of the Murder House property. I also didn’t quite understand what the purpose of her tragic background was, as it’s there to make her tragic but doesn’t really apply to the plot as a whole. It felt a lot like backstory was trying to do a lot of character development heavy lifting, and that just doesn’t quite work in this book.
I had higher hopes for “We’ll Never Tell”. The set up was pretty great, but the execution didn’t really reinvent any wheels. Certainly not something I regret reading, but I wanted more.
Rating 6: Lots of potential and a great set up, but ultimately it’s pretty run of the mill with a bland main character.
“We’ll Never Tell” is included on the Goodreads list “Most Anticipated May 2023 Young Adult Releases”.