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The Smaller Evil

2.89  ·  Rating details ·  388 ratings  ·  132 reviews
Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.
17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to "evolve," as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 2nd 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
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Average rating 2.89  · 
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Emily May
The only lies are the ones you tell yourself.
That you’re a good person.
That you’re doing what’s best.

I actually can't rate this bizarre little book.

At first, I opted for the standard noncommittal three stars. But honestly, there isn't a star rating for this book. Maybe there would be if I was sure what the hell just happened. What did I just read?!

Kuehn is known for writing outside the box, and I like that. I like her weirdass mystery/thrillers that play with memories and unreliable narrator
What even just happened? Stephanie Kuehn's writing is on point as usual. The problem here is I don't get it... I'm left wondering if it all went over my head or if I'm missing something?

Basically seventeen year old Arman, riddled with anxiety, is headed to a secluded self-help retreat with a couple peers all drawn to the experience by Beau, the retreat leader. Arman is charmed by Beau in this weird father figure type way. The retreat itself is odd with peculiar individuals. It all doesn't quite
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

Holy crap on a cracker! What did I just read? This book is off the chain. I don't even know what the end of the book meant! Lol, someone else read it and tell me what happened!

There is this poor dude named Arman who is taken in by a man named Beau. He talks him into coming on some retreat thing along with some other kids. They end up at this bizarre place where there are more bizarre people. Young, old, naked, clothed.

Arman tries to leave and some weird stuff goes down and he thinks Beau is de
C.G. Drews
I guess we can accurately summarise this book as a conglomeration of mind twistery. (Shhh that's an eloquent phrase from your local fun eloquent reviewer.) Like I did actually enjoy reading this! I loved the author's book Charm & Strange! It's probably one of my all time favourite books because it has unreliable characters and a deep sense of mind-twistery. I think The Smaller Evil followed that same pattern, but I just don't really get it...which is a shame.

The story is basically about Arman g
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-favorites
this was a tense little bugger. i read the first twenty pages before bed and finished the thing in one sitting at a café, biting my nails, flipping pages.

more thoughts to come. totally hung over after this one.
This is by the same author who messed with my head and blew my mind with Charm and Strange. Saying I need this in my life is an understatement. ...more
I never know where I am going when I pick up one of Kuehn's novels, but I know the ride is always going to be one I trust.

Arman's taking part in a "retreat" of sorts, though it's not quite what it seems. . . and Arman himself isn't quite who he seems. At the core, this is a book about systems and about relationships, and about the ways we value and push people toward independence, even when they aren't ready . . . and even if they don't need to be.

A complex, philosophical novel. I am and I am
CW (The Quiet Pond) ✨
DNF @ 43.4%.

I feel awful for DNF'ing this, especially since I never usually DNF books.
I loved Kuehn's other books (so check them out instead! I really liked Complicit and Charm & Strange but please research TW's before picking them up) but this one feels like too much of a wide miss for me.

Why I DNF'd this book
- I am just... not enjoying this at all. And I am getting the feeling that I won't enjoy it later. (I don't usually get this feeling either? So I'm following my intuition.)
- I was halfwa
The Smaller Evil is about a troubled boy, Arman, who meets a charismatic self-help community leader, Beau, and follows him to the secluded retreat where people like him - lost, unhappy and depressed - are trying to find answers. After failing to fit into the crowd of happily (or not so) transforming people he decides to leave the compound - and he almost does. But then he becomes a witness of some mysterious, tragic events (view spoiler) a ...more
Jenny Baker
I enjoyed Stephanie Kuehn’s Delicate Monsters so much that I couldn’t wait to read her latest book The Smaller Evil. However, I was a little concerned when I read some early reviews from several people who said they didn’t understand the ending. After reading it, I’m not sure what the ending means either.

Arman is a seventeen-year-old who has anxiety issues and hates himself, so he goes to this weeklong retreat in Big Sur with two of his friends, Dale and Kira. Beau is the leader and Arman seems
EDIT OCT. 27: Somehow I was thinking about this book today, and I reached the conclusion I didn't actually like it enough to give it 3 stars, so I lowered it to a 2. I'll still be checking out Kuehn's other books, though.
That's the thing about seeking hope and clarity, freedom and well-being. None of us are immune to kindess or flattery or admiration. None of us can resist the sway of charisma. But there's power in helping others believe they can.

This book was weird. And th
Sep 04, 2016 rated it liked it
I'm at a loss. I adored Kuehn's first book, Charm & Strange. Loved it with all my heart. Liked the second one fairly well, though the authorial voice made me deeply uneasy, somehow. This one had moments of pure, bone-chilling clarity but I lost my way. The ending didn't make any sense to me, I don't know what happened in the last scene, and because of that, I can't figure out what I thought of the book. ...more
Brittany S.
Initial Impressions 7/27/16: 2.5 stars
What even what this book? It was kind of bizarre but for me personally, not in a good way. The book revolves largely (or really, entirely) in and around a cult (although the word isn't really specifically used, that's how it came off to me) and it was just kind of weird to read.

Things got interesting about a third of the way in and then they fizzled back out to just plain strange. I was hoping it was going to keep venturing toward mystery/thriller and while
Sarah Marie
The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn

4.5 stars

Arman is a young man struggling with a lot of inner turmoil. He deals with anxiety, depression, and self-loathing among other things. His story starts when he meets Beau, an enigmatic man who offers the sanctity of a compound dedicated to healing. This is Arman’s chance to change… to evolve…Everything begins to unravel around Arman and instead of facing the positive changes he hopes to encounter he comes face to face with a smaller evil within the comp

Jul 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
I read 72 pages, and I don't think I like this book. Stephanie Kuehn's writing is fabulous--I thought the same thing about Charm and Strange, but I also DNFed that book because her stuff is just too weird for me and I feel disconnected from the narrative and characters.

I went to look at some reviews after considering whether I should DNF or not, and based on what I am seeing, most people seem to not understand the ending, and some are even blaming themselves. To me, that is not a reader problem
Jessica Woodbury
I have a bit of a thing for books about cults, so I figured I'd try this one. At first I wasn't sure I was that into it, but the middle third of the book was great: riveting, disorienting, exciting. But the climax didn't live up to the potential (though this isn't that uncommon in this kind of book) and everything wrapped up much too quickly. Wanted more more more and just didn't get it, sadly.

I did the audiobook and wasn't a huge fan of the narrators.
Jul 11, 2017 marked it as dnf-2016-onward  ·  review of another edition
dnf @ 15%

I made it about as far as the completely random and unnecessarily explicit rape scene then I noped my way out of there. Looking at other reviews leads me to believe that this book just gets more nonsensical as it goes along and the ending is completely ambiguous so yeah, the only reason I'd keep reading this would be to see if the mystery explained. No thanks. Bye.
Megan (ReadingRover)
Jun 24, 2017 marked it as unfinished-try-again-later  ·  review of another edition
I just can't do it. I'm not into this for some reason. It's just kind of dull and I'm not really connecting with the characters. I have so many other books that I want to be reading and am eager to devour that this one is turning into a chore. Oh well. Maybe another time. ...more
Shannon (It Starts At Midnight)
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight

Literally no idea, guys. I am so confused right now. I finished this last night (well, technically early this morning, but shh), and I figured I'd think about it for a bit before writing down my thoughts. But then I realized that I don't really have any quality thoughts because I have no idea what just happened.

I really enjoyed Stephanie's  Delicate Monsters last year- even th
I'm going to assume that's a chameleon tail on the cover and I'm then going to infer that it's representative of both the story's main character as well as the character he so admires. Otherwise, I have no idea what a curled lizard tail has to do with this story and it certainly has nothing to do with the title.

I thought this would be interesting. There's this kid, Arman, I think he's 17, and he's just stolen his step-father's ill-gotten money in order to pay for a stay at a self-discovery retre
This was…. a strange book. I want to like it, but ultimately, I just don’t get it. What was the point?

Arman is kind of an outcast. He doesn’t fit in, he’s on all kinds of medications for ADD and anxiety whatnot. He meets this guy, Beau, who invites him to a “retreat”. A couple of sort-of friends come along as well, but otherwise it’s mostly old people.

Then Beau is murdered. Or kills himself. Or maybe he didn’t and Arman is just crazy. Now we spend half the book not sure what is real and what is
Yeah, I'm not going to be able to rate this.
DNF. I might get back to it again in the future.

First, I don't know if I understand the story. I don't know if this was intended by the author, although it does seem like it. Second, despite the slow pacing, the story is intriguing because of its characters. I think this book isn't recommended for everybody, not unless they have read Kuehn's works. Even if I've read Delicate Monsters and Charm & Strange, I don't think it was enough to prepare me for th
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
The Smaller Evil joins my mental list of YA to shove at people who are dismissive of YA novels. Kuehn’s definitely a talent, and her works are in no way derivative or pedestrian in the way a Literary snob could turn their nose up at.

That said, Kuehn’s novels are too smart for me. Like, I actually do not understand what happened at the end. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. I think I mostly understand the ending, but I don’t really get what I’m supposed to take away from it. Basically, I clo
PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps
I received a complimentary e-copy of THE SMALLER EVIL in exchange for my honest review.


Arman and two acquaintances from school attend Evolve, a retreat for realizing one's potential (a cult). His history of anxiety and self doubt and is surprised when Beau, the not-so-charismatic leader sees him as special.

I'm normally a big fan of Stephanie Kuehn, but THE SMALLER EVIL wasn't for me. I had a hard time following the plot, wondering was what real and what might be fantasy or hallucination.
Mar 12, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a strange one. Reminded me a lot of Challenger Deep (not in the mental health aspects but in the narration style).
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Arman struggles with the idea that everything revolves around him. The stranger behind him is following him, the people around him are judging him. His anxiety overcomes him and he can barely cope. So, when a man called Beau promises to help him, he readily accepts. After making an excuse about where he’ll be (although neither of his parents seem to care) he travels to a compound in the mountains for one week of a program that he hopes will fix him.

When they arrive, Arman and two of his classma
Matie *Crazy Cat Lady*
Internal monologue after finishing The Smaller Evil: Well, I’ve no clue what just happened. Or what exactly this was about. Consequently, I’ll not stop until I’ve figured out what the hell I just read and if it takes ages!

*15hours, 23minutes and 47 seconds later, concerned pedestrians reported sightings of a seemingly insane and obsessed person to the local chief of police. Second occurrence of that kind in only one week, the poor man thought by himself. Please, he whispered to whatever God woul
Shelley Pearson
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, ya, ya-book-club, 2018
I don't understand what happened at the end. (view spoiler) It's weird, because usually I feel like authors overexplain, like I'll be all "We get it!" But this time, I could have gone for much more explanation. I thought the book was pretty interesting, but I was missing that "aha!" moment at the end. ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
* in reality 3.5/5 stars.

Well, that was unexpected. I'm not sure how I feel. I do intend to read more Stephanie Kuehn books in the future. Which ones do you recommend?
I really, really love Stephanie Kuehn and her books. She does a really good job of writing tense thrillers and well plotted mysteries for a teen audience, as well and an adult audience. My favorite of hers is CHARM AND STRANGE, a book that I found to be very tense and also incredibly heartbreaking. So any time she has a new book coming out, I seek it out almost immediately. Her newest book is THE SMALLER EVIL. Much like her other books, it involves teens who are going through issues, and while I ...more
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