Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Seventeen year old Samantha Jo Franco is found walking along a rural road leading out of Michaux State Forest after going missing for four days. She doesn't remember her name and is badly scratched and has blood on her jeans. At the hospital, Samantha is told she has dissociative amnesia and that her memories may or may not return.

Samantha meets her parents, Steven and Joanna Franco and learns she has a brother, Scott, as well as a boyfriend, Del. She also learns that she went missing with her best friend, Cassie Winchester, who is still missing. When Sam returns home, she discovers her family is extremely wealthy and that she lives on a huge estate that belongs to her mother's family.

As Sam tries to pick up the pieces of her life she gradually learns that she was not a nice person. The sticker on her door which reads This Bitch Bites is the first hint of who Samantha was before the amnesia. Several days after returning home, a few of Cassie's friends visit her. After their visit she finds a note under her pillow in her bedroom that says "Don't look back. You won't like what you find." Sam has no idea who placed the note in her room and her brother Scott tries to downplay the note, telling her it is just a cruel joke.

When Sam meets Del she feels uncomfortable in his presence. He returns a necklace he gave her and which she left at his place before she went missing.  Del tells her they started dating at the beginning of their freshman year, that their fathers are in business together and that their relationship is expected by both families. However, both Scott and Sam's childhood friend, Carson Ortiz, intensely dislike Del. This makes Samantha wary of Del and not interested in To complicate matters, Samantha finds herself attracted to Carson, who seems not as self-absorbed as Del. But because of Samantha's previous reputation, Carson is wary of her too.

The more Samantha learns about herself, the more she comes to realize that she was a truly mean girl. She wasn't always like this however. Sam changed when Cassie came to Gettysburg, PA. She and Cassie as well as their friends were often mean to many of the students at school. Sam was once good friends with Carson whose father works as a groundskeeper but that changed after Cassie arrived. She often humiliated other girls in the school. Samantha is embarrassed and ashamed of her reputation.

All during this time, Cassie has pieces of flashbacks and continues to receive the mysterious notes. In an effort to recover her memories, Samantha decides to visit Cassie's home, hoping these visits will help trigger the lost memories. However, when Cassie's body is recovered from the lake, Samantha becomes determined to remember what happened that night, even though her remembering might just place her in great danger.

Armentrout successfully keeps her readers guessing as to what exactly happened to Cassie and Samantha and who murdered Cassie Winchester. There are plenty of suspects including Del, Carson, Scott and even parents. Readers may or may not guess the connection between Cassie and Samantha very early on, which might then lead them to uncovering the real murderer well before the climax of the novel.

Despite this, for those who are not completely certain, suspense is maintained in the novel because every time a memory surfaces, another character becomes a potential suspect. It seems many people had a motive for murdering Cassie, who was hated even more than Samantha.

Armentrout does make use of a love triangle to create tension between the various characters; between Carson and Del, and between Samantha and her socialite mother. But free from her past because of her memory loss, Samantha decides to ignore her parents disapproval of Carson and forge ahead with a relationship with him.

Samantha is a likeable character who gets a second chance essentially because she can't remember who she was. Her voice in the novel is very believable as she struggles to come to terms with her memory loss and how she behaved before the incident with Cassie. However, many of the characters in this novel are stereotypical; Del is the self-absorbed rich boyfriend while working-class Carson is the caring, gentle lover. Unfortunately, this novel, like many young adult novels, portrays parents as the villains, more concerned with class status, opinions and almost always self-absorbed. Samantha's father is generally absent (which is out of character with his final actions in the novel), as is her alcohol-imbibing mother who only surfaces whenever Samantha is with the socially unsuitable Carson.

Readers will understand the significance of the cover of Don't Look Back when they read the ending of the novel.

Book Details:
Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout
New York: Hyperion    2014
369 pp.

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