Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois
Random House, September 2013
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.

The book opens with a disclaimer that while this book is “loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox,” it is entirely fiction. I decided to read the book not because I’m interested in Amanda Knox but because I really liked duBois’s first book, A Partial History of Lost Causes. All in all, I prefer her debut novel to Cartwheel, and what it comes down to is that the Cartwheel seems to have low stakes.

Cartwheel focuses on the story of Lily Hayes, an American college student who moves to Buenos Aires to study.  She finds her roommate Katy murdered about a month into their stay with a local family, and Lily is tried for her murder. She’s an idiosyncratic character who for some reason performs a cartwheel while being interviewed by the police or prosecutor, and duBois imagines that we’re invested in her story because of the surrounding media frenzy around her prosecution. We jump in time to cover Lily’s time in Argentina before and after the murder, and we see her story through her eyes as well as the eyes of her parents, her younger sister, her boyfriend, and her prosecutor. It’s a story about whether or not she could have murdered her roommate Katy.

My feeling that the book has low stakes is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a focus on Katy, the murdered victim. A police procedural, at least, focuses on aspects of the crime and finding justice for the victim no matter how long it takes. Focusing on a woman accused of murder without paying much attention to the deceased seems like I’m gawking at the character of Lily. I’m ambivalent about this book, and I recommend duBois’s first book for more psychological insight and life and death issues: it’s about a young woman grappling with a Huntington’s diagnosis in her twenties after her father died of the disease.

8 thoughts on “Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

  1. Thanks, Rebecca, for your candor. Honestly, your review is terrific but I think I’ll wait on this one…

    • Sometimes I’m wary about writing less than glowing reviews, but I wanted to write about my reservations about the book because I’ve seen mainly positive reviews of it.

  2. I’m really put off when an author uses a real and recent story so blatantly. I hated Val McDermid’s ‘The Vanishing Point’ mainly because it was so obviously about the tragic story of the minor celebrity Jade Goody – although I’ve enjoyed most of McDermid’s stuff in the past. Think I’ll give this one a miss…

    • Some “ripped from the headline” stuff can be well done, but nothing comes to mind right now. I gave this book a fair shot because I enjoyed her first one, which was decidedly non-crime. (I haven’t read The Vanishing Point.)

  3. Rebecca, mindful of the fact that I’m trying to get a rein on my book buying anyway, I probably wouldn’t have been tempted too much based on your review and reaction – thanks! What inner resolve I possess!

    • No problem, Col. I never know if I’ll like a “crime” novel by someone who doesn’t usually write them, but this one was not my favorite.

    • I didn’t know much about the actual case (the benefits of not having cable TV), but I thought it might be an interesting take on the case. Unfortunately I didn’t find that to be true. I hope to get into a better reading groove now that I’ve moved– it’s been a busy three months.

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