Book Review: YOU MUST NOT MISS (2019) by Katrina Leno
Updated: Jan 6
This is a spoiler-free review of Katrina Leno's You Must Not Miss, a 2019 young adult novel that blends the contemporary with the speculative genre.
The summary (in my words):
Magpie Lewis has it tough. Early on, we discover her father cheated on her mother with her aunt and that her mother abuses alcohol to cope with the affair. Meanwhile, Magpie has clung to a group of high school misfits in the wake of the explosive falling out with her best friend six months prior. To escape the tumultuous circumstances that surround her, Magpie writes about Near, an idealized version of her home in Farther, New England. In this world, Magpie is invincible; her parents are together; her sister Eryn never abandoned her; and the traumatizing events at Brandon Phipp's house never happened. It is not until Magpie realizes she wrote Near into existence that she can harness far more power than she ever thought capable . . . and get revenge on those who have hurt her.
"Anyone who's dealt with alcoholism, a broken family, sexual assault, depression, thoughts of murder or suicide, etc. SHOULD NOT read this book--or at least read it very cautiously. It will put you (myself included) into a negative headspace."
The prose is outstanding. Utterly provocative. Leno sure has a way of creating atmosphere with her sparse sentences and precise word choice. There's almost a poetic quality to it, given the number of one-sentence paragraphs that follow one after another. There's also a dreamy quality to her writing, mirroring Magpie's deep-seated longing to escape into her fantasy world. I was amazed at how often I had to put this book down, just so I could come up for air. The quiet intensity of this book really pulled on my emotions, even stressing me out at times. As the plot progressed, the faster my heart throbbed. Why, you ask? Leno is masterful at sprinkling crumbs of information at just the write moment and then leaving you in the dark. This makes room for some heartbreaking twists and turns. You will be surprised by just how dark this book gets. Don't let the pretty pink cover fool you.
Excellent. The tension and conflict builds slowly, yet it's already so intuitive and so visceral underneath the prose that you can't help but keep reading. The second half of the book--and more notably the last quarter--is when Leno sets off the fireworks. I stayed up late just to finish the last thirty pages and was stunned by the ending.
Simply put, the characters are engaging. The supporting characters are perhaps not as developed as you may find in other books, put Leno gives us enough key points about each of them to make them interesting. Had the supporting characters been more developed, the plot and pacing would not have been as streamlined. In other words, they do their job to serve the plot. It also magnifies the fact that Magpie is so lost in her despair, she has neither energy nor willpower to really invest in them on a deeper level. This story is told from Magpie's point of view, after all.
Ben is adorable. That's all. Read the book and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Things I didn't like: *spoilers ahead*
The ending. I know a minute ago I gushed about how stunned I was by the ending. That part's true. More specifically, though, I was stunned by how confused, disappointed, and disheartened by the place Leno chose to land on this one. Here's why:
Magpie had a negative character arc. Her sense of morality, humanity, and decency completely decayed by the end; she does not find redemption at the end. If anything, her wicked behavior is excused. Anyone who's dealt with alcoholism, a broken family, sexual assault, depression, thoughts of murder or suicide, etc. SHOULD NOT read this book--or at least read it very cautiously. It may put you (myself included) into a negative headspace. I wasn't kidding earlier when I said I had to take breaks from reading this book. Needless to say, the ending was a huge bummer. This book promotes hopelessness and is dangerous to anyone who may be contemplating suicide. Only read if you are looking for something dark and are in a healthy state of mind.
My ranking (out of 5):
* * * *