Thursday, March 05, 2009

Harmless by Dana Reinhardt

Plot Summary: One friday night, Emma, Anna, and Mariah, three best friends, are out doing something they shouldn’t. They make up a story so they won’t get in trouble at home. It seems like the easy way out. What happens next challenges their friendship, their community, their relationships with their families, and their sense of themselves. What happens next shows the harm one lie can do.

I’ve read one other book by Dana Reinhardt, and didn’t care for it much. But I never let that deter me from reading other books by the same author. After all, she could have written something very different that I might want to read over and over. So, I picked up HARMLESS with a completely open mind and ready to fall in love.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. After this happens twice, then I begin to think my tastes don’t mesh with this particular author. So, keep this in mind as you read this review.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below (that give away the ending of the book).

This story is told via three points of view: Anna’s, Emma’s, and Mariah’s, and they tell a lie about a strange man attempting to rape Emma (there was no man - they were lying to avoid getting into trouble). The story started off okay, and it was interesting to see the girls' different perspectives . But, as events unfolded, the multiple points of view actually put me off. I felt like I was missing too much with the switch from character to character. Especially when the big things happened toward the end, and we only got one character’s perspective on it.

For example, when the girls are arrested after the truth has surfaced, we only hear Anna's account of it. But this is such a huge thing that I felt cheated out of how the other two girls handled this situation. Especially Emma, since she's the one who got them all arrested. I wanted to know if she felt vindicated, or if she'd made the biggest mistake ever.

To me, this really felt like Emma’s story. It was Emma’s idea to lie about the attempted rape, and then it was Emma who confessed the truth to the police. She didn’t consult Anna or Mariah beforehand, nor did she seem to consider how her confession would affect them. Yet, we never fully understand her reasons behind the confession. Granted, we see that she’s in turmoil and falling into something like depression, and we can kind of understand why. She had sex and wasn’t ready for it, she made up a story that painted her as a sexual victim, and now she’s seeing looks of pity mixed with fear everywhere.

This is where I believe the real story is. A girl proposing an outrageous lie to avoid a simple grounding, then having that lie turn on her and make her life miserable? That's a riveting premise. Anna and Mariah had their own story lines, of course, with character changes and separate paths to the conclusion. But, in the end, they just weren’t interesting enough. Emma’s inner turmoil overshadowed them in a very big way.

I think that if this story had been told solely through Emma’s perspective, I would have loved it. And, I think the multiple points of view made it more complicated than necessary. In the world of good stories, less is more. :)


Marcia said...

In general, I enjoy different POVs on the same set of events. But the big risk is that they won't all be equally compelling. I wonder if multiple POVs, like description, are one of the main things that cause readers to skip?

PJ Hoover said...

I know what you mean about wondering if particular authors are right for you or not. I normally will give two books a chance by and author, and give up after that unless I'm really convinced otherwise.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

james patterson makes multi POVs work but its tough! Thx for visiting me!

Mary Witzl said...

I'm like Marcia: I usually enjoy stories with multiple POVs, where you can see that different people have different interpretations of the truth, for different reasons. But I'm beginning to see how this can play havoc with the reader's sympathies, and I'm definitely beginning to see that less is better -- that carefully-chosen deft touches make for a finer story than a lot of heavy-handed painting and too-busy sketching of details.

Anonymous said...