GIRL IN SNOW
by DANYA KUKAFKA
Simon & Schuster | 2017
Hardcover: 368 pages
Review Source: ARC from S & S through Edelweiss
Tragedy struck in northern Colorado this morning, where the body of a fifteen-year-old girl was discovered on a [snowy] elementary school playground. The victim has been identified as Lucinda Hayes, a ninth-grade student at Jefferson High School.
Lucinda’s death and the subsequent three-day murder investigation sets forth a firestorm of memories, self-reflection and introspection through three primary protagonists and a host of secondary characters. The three main characters alternate chapters offering different perspectives on the murder and Lucinda’s brief life where Cameron and Russ are told in the third person and we hear directly from Jade.
Fifteen-year-old Cameron Whitley’s first thoughts after learning of Lucinda’s death were that “her shoulder blades framed her naked spine like a pair of static lungs”. He spends his nights standing still in the dark outside homes watching his neighbors’ candid movements and activities. Lucinda Hayes is his primary interest and over time has become his compulsion. He began his nightly stalking after taking an art class and became curious to people’s lives in candid moments. The community is aware of Cameron’s habits and peculiar behavior; he was considered annoying and presumed as an innocent…until the murder. When stressed, Cameron devolves into a state he refers to as “tangled” and becomes erratic and performs dangerous actions like stealing his mother’s gun for a shooting spree in the woods.
Cameron had started playing Statue Nights when he was twelve years old. The summer after sixth grade, he realized he could pop out the screen in his bedroom window…
Seventeen-year-old Jade Dixon-Burns learned about Lucinda’s death over breakfast and “felt only a foreign lightness: like someone sucked the weight from her legs, taken the terrible thoughts out of her head, softened some sharpness jabbing at her ribs”. Jade, seen as an outcast and oddball, hated the beautiful, popular and alluring Lucinda. Her hate centers on the fact that Lucinda, just by being attractive, is loved, valued, and appreciated.
We learn the most about Lucinda through Jade’s story. Jade displays a sarcastic and aloof side to the world but we see that she has great strength of character just below the surface. She lives with an abusive mother and sees herself as unlovable. Her relief valve is her need to write scripts that help clarify her thoughts and feelings.
And she shares Cameron’s need to observe others…she is always aware and watching. She knows things about the murder. She is my favorite character.
Jade Dixon-Burns hates Lucinda. Lucinda took everything from Jade: her babysitting job, and her best friend. The worst part was Lucinda’s blissful ignorance to the damage she’d wrought.
Police Officer Russ Fletcher is stunned. Serving nearly 20 years on the force, this is his first body – his first murder victim. When Russ learns that Cameron is a suspect, he is flung back to an earlier time in his career when he patrolled with Lee Whitley, Cameron’s father, and a promise he made to his old partner to watch over his delicate son. Russ has his own secrets and when revealed, will leave you feeling sad for him.
Officer Russ Fletcher doesn’t know Lucinda, but he knows the kid everyone is talking about, the boy who may have killed her…Cameron Whitley.
Cameron, Jade and Russ lead us to others that play pivotal roles in their lives and we witness the reactions and suspicions of a small town rocked by violence; judgments are made about people and events based on our preconceived ideas and observations that can lead away from the truth.
As a final note, since we are dealing with budding adults with raging hormones, there’s strong references to sexual inquisitiveness and experiences.
In total, it is a complex and twisted story but well crafted. As a debut work, it has pulled together many elements of a true mystery with a flair to the dramatic. There are weak spots in the conclusion and the resolution of the crime but overall a worthy read.
I would definitely read another book by this author.