Book Review: Cartwheel – Jennifer duBois

Cartwheel coverTitle: Cartwheel
Author: Jennifer duBois
ISBN: 9780812995862
Pages: 384
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5


Lily Hayes travels to Buenos Aires for a semester studying abroad, and she is determined to enjoy the experience as much as she can, immersing herself in local culture. She’s disdainful of her American roommate, Katy, whom Lily believes is simple minded and boring. But when Katy is found brutally murdered, Lily is arrested as the prime suspect, and the ensuing investigation questions everything everyone around Lily thought they knew about her.

Snapshot Review:

A brilliant psychological thriller that closely examines the role of perception in making reality and how it can affect identity. Book clubs will relish picking apart this thought-provoking novel.

Full Review:

Most Americans are familiar with the name Amanda Knox, the girl who was accused of murdering her roommate in Italy while they were studying abroad. There are many similarities between this case and Cartwheel, and indeed, the novel takes its premise from this famous case. But there are many differences as well, and duBois puts her focus on the characters in the novel just as much as the plot; readers shouldn’t go into this expecting a retelling of the Amanda Knox case, but instead a brilliantly told story that’s both gripping and insightful.

Lily is a fascinating character in Cartwheel. She’s by no means an innocent young girl; it’s possible she could have killed her roommate. But at the same time, is she really capable of that? duBois delves into Lily, delivering her own narrative as well as other characters’ perspectives. Is she a spoiled girl who’s never had to face reality? Is she an angry, vengeful person who murdered her roommate in cold blood? Or is she just a scared young girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is it possible she could be all three of these, maybe even at the same time? Yes, Cartwheel is an impeccably written psychological thriller, but at its center are the characters and questions of identity they provoke.

Indeed, the question of Lily’s guilt or innocence changes with each perspective the reader is provided. The prosecutor is absolutely convinced, because of Lily’s aloof and whimsical behavior (including doing a cartwheel during her interrogation—the source of the novel’s title), that she is guilty, while her parents, of course, think their little girl could not have murdered Katy. But they also admit that her actions aren’t exactly those of someone who is innocent; they must ask themselves where they went wrong, and why Lily might behave the way she does. Each character in this novel, from major to minor, is fully fleshed out and presents something intriguing for the reader.

So, is Lily guilty or innocent? In many ways, that’s for the reader of Cartwheel to decide, especially considering that’s not the main thrust of the narrative. Instead, duBois focuses on each person in the novel, provoking questions of perception. How does perception change reality? Does reality even matter these days, or is perception paramount? This is definitely a great pick for discussion, as readers will want to discuss every page of this disturbing, illuminating novel.

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  1. I enjoyed your thoughtful review, Swapna. I read Cartwheel in July and liked it (despite some quibbles); I find that it continues to haunt me with its probing questions. I’m not a huge fan of duBois’ writing, which can be pretentious and needlessly showy, but she is obviously brilliant and is certainly worth following. I look forward to her next book .

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