Monday, July 29, 2019

TELL ME EVERYTHING :: Cambria Brockman

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

"Pretend." Malin Ahlberg's father whispers this instruction in her ear as her parents drop her at Hawthorne College, a small liberal arts school in the Maine backwoods. For the next four years, from that first day through the tragedies that befall her friends on Senior Day in 2011, Malin takes his directive to heart.

Cambria Brockman's debut, Tell Me Everything, ultimately does tell all; yet, in line with psychologically twisted college clique tales, not before putting the reader through a maddeningly enjoyable wringer. Malin is patently unreliable, but in a wonderfully fresh, clear-headed way. She is not influenced by drugs or alcohol; quite the opposite, in fact. Malin is about control, with an unknown but definite method to her madness.

Coming from Texas, as something of a fish-out-of-water, Malin surprisingly finds herself part of an intimate yet disparate group of six friends. Living together in a house purchased by one set of wealthy parents gives Malin constant access to and insights into their secrets, changing dynamics and intimacies.

Weaving through three main timelines--Malin's childhood, freshman year and senior year--Brockman slowly exposes the meaning behind Malin's father's whispered instruction and her ongoing manipulations. Some minor plot points and discrepancies in the character depth of the six friends create minor hiccups in the flow, but Brockman has turned in a compelling slow burn with focus justly on its furtive protagonist. Malin's retelling of each period in her life is fraught with competing control and unease that make for a dynamite combination.

STREET SENSE:  I went into this one blind and really kind of dug it. If you're a sucker for multiple timelines and manipulative narrators with shady pasts, you might find it in your wheelhouse as well.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  My father saw potential in me, so he taught me how to be normal. I don’t think he realized it made me more dangerous, to know how to appear like I cared.

(But really, this is the best one: "Responding to people was so taxing." Man, I feel you, sister.)

COVER NERD SAYS: I like this cover. It's a bit "bright" for a book that is really more dark, but the pool has symbolism that I like and the ripples are a pretty cool effect and somewhat metaphorical. Clean, uncluttered, nice palette, good balance, no distracting blurbs or extraneous writing. This would catch my eye on a shelf for sure.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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