Fresh off my post about happenstance comes another bit of randomness that I was happy to experience…
A few months back I was slogging through my evening commute. With one hour and forty-five minutes of drive-time awaiting me, I was trying to find a way to pass the time. Normally I would have an audiobook or podcast episode downloaded and ready to go; that day, I had neither. Instead, I flipped to my favorite radio show for the ride home: Bumper to Bumper with Dan Barreiro on KFAN out of the Twin Cities. That afternoon, Barreiro was interviewing a local author named Mindy Mejia and discussing her new book, entitled Everything You Want Me to Be. The conversation was a good one, but more telling was that the show’s host (who doesn’t dole out high praise very often) stated he enjoyed the novel and recommended it. Being the story sounded interesting, I decided to take the plunge…
…and boy oh boy, am I glad I did.
Everything You Want Me to Be opens with the discovery of a murdered teenage girl named Hattie Hoffman. Stabbed multiple times, face slashed repeatedly, body half-submerged in lake water and badly bloated: the scene shakes Sheriff Del Goodman to his core, not just because a killing like that doesn’t happen in his small, rural town in southern Minnesota, but also because Hattie is his best friend’s daughter and Del has known her his whole life. Angered by what has transpired, Sheriff Goodman begins the process of reviewing the crime scene and interviewing likely suspects.
The only problem is that the more he digs, the further he gets from the truth. Hattie, a successful actress in local theater productions toward the end of her life, was just as successful at playing roles when she was off the stage. As Sheriff Goodman converses with his people of interest, he learns that Hattie became one person with her jock boyfriend, yet another person to her newly transplanted English teacher, and a different person still to her best friend. This twist in the storytelling leads to numerous instances when the sheriff (and readers of the book, for that matter) finally thinks he knows what’s happened, only to have a new bit of information take him down a different path. In the end, the pieces to the complex puzzle finally come together, and the payoff is as well-crafted as it is heart-breaking.
Mejia tells her story across multiple points of view, and shifts back and forth between the present-day murder investigation as well as highlights from the year leading up to Hattie’s death. While the mystery is what drives the story forward – and Mejia delivers on this in spades; while the pace isn’t break-neck, it has plenty of passages that will have readers flipping pages well past their bedtime – the characterization is top-notch across the board. It stands to reason that Hattie would have her character fully fleshed out — she’s the star of the show, after all – but Mejia takes her time with every character in her story, from backgrounds on Sheriff Goodman and Hattie’s English teacher, Peter Lund, to minor characters such as Hattie’s brother who is in the military and the family who lives in the same building as Sheriff Goodman (down to family’s cat and its proclivities). This attention to detail sets Mejia’s cast apart from those in other mysteries in that her world is more vibrant for her effort. Major kudos to the author for breathing life into her characters while driving their stories forward with tension and uncertainty.
As an aside, as someone who lives in southern Minnesota (and has lived in the state for most of my life), it was fun to read about various locations that I know like the back of my hand. Even passages that describe mundane items such as farmland and outbuildings were more enjoyable because I’ve experienced those same things each and every day. While it certainly doesn’t take away from the story if you’re not from the area, the setting spoke to me more than a book that takes place in, oh, New York City or London, England. It’s fun to read about your home, and that doesn’t happen very often when you live in fly-over country.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Everything You Want Me to Be. Mejia struck a perfect balance with setting, characterization, and the all-important suspense in her story. I’ve read countless mysteries in my time, so much so that books rarely surprise me these days. Yet on more than one occasion I thought I had this book pegged, and each time Mejia pulled the rug out from under me. I could almost hear her saying, “Thought you had it, didn’t you? Well, try again. Just wait while I set up my next trap for you.” And really, what else could you ask for from a book like this? As such, I give Everything You Want Me to Be a 9 out of 10. I have no doubt this one will land in my top-five at year’s end; why don’t you give it a try and see if it doesn’t do the same for you?
Until we meet again…