I love anything true crime related: documentaries, books, podcasts, you name it. Which was why I was particularly excited to hear that this novel wasI love anything true crime related: documentaries, books, podcasts, you name it. Which was why I was particularly excited to hear that this novel was a take on In Cold Blood, one of the most infamous true crime books of all time. However, No Saints in Kansas isn't just a take on In Cold Blood, it's actually set right in the midst of the murders themselves, creating an interesting blend of fiction and fact.
It's that blend of real people and events with fictional ones that is the most interesting part of this novel. I wanted to like it; I tried really hard to like it. But it was a difficult read to get through because it was choppy and disjointed and hard to follow in some parts. The main character and narrator, 15-year-old Carly Fleming, was completely unlikable to me. Honestly, I didn't like any of the characters. Every single character in the novel was petty, childish and mean, usually for no reason at all. There was never an explanation given for why Carly's entire family was always nasty toward each other or at each other's throats. There was no reason for why Carly was the target of stereotypical mean girl bullies aside from the fact that they were just...mean. They were mean girls. I know the book is set in 1959 but I'm reading it in 2017...aren't we past the point of girls who hate other girls just because they feel like they're supposed to?
The characters and their motives were flat and one-dimensional. I never felt like I had a grasp on why anyone did the things they did. Especially Carly, who narrates the story; I never felt like I understood her or her motives. She was deeply effected by the murders but admits about a million times over that she wasn't even really friends with Nancy Clutter. She spent the first 70% of the book trying desperately to prove that Bobby, Nancy's boyfriend, was innocent but I still honestly don't know why. There was never any background given to their relationship, never any real motive for Carly doing what she did, except maybe that she didn't have anything else to do there in Kansas?
I felt like the author kept introducing all these points and actions but never explained why they happened or what was driving the characters. I always felt like I was missing something, almost to the point where I kept going back to make sure I hadn't missed an entire scene or an important line. The novel felt like a patchwork of scenes without any real thread, connection or continuity. That's my biggest complaint with the novel: it didn't make sense and I just didn't care. I didn't really care about the way the people in the town treated Carly or Bobby or whether people were happy or upset that the Clutters were killed or whatever crisis Carly was having at that particular moment that disappeared completely two pages later. I know that Carly was only supposed to be 15 but she felt every bit that age (which maybe was the intention that I completely missed) and it made her completely unlikable for me.
My favorite part about No Saints in Kansas was the blending for historical events and figures. John F. Kennedy makes a brief appearance, which was intriguing, as do the In Cold Blood killers themselves. My personal favorite part was the moment Truman Capote and Harper Lee show up. I wasn't expecting that and it was a pleasant surprise! I thought they might only appear briefly, a subtle nod to what was going on at the time but the pair feature heavily throughout the novel, appearing several times. It was interesting to see this sort of "behind the scenes" look at the writing of In Cold Blood.
I feel like the author was maybe trying to do too much here and wasn't entirely sure what direction she was taking her story in. It was a hodgepodge of true crime, high school drama, coming of age, family drama and historical fact rolled into one but without any focus on any certain aspect. The characters felt flat and not fleshed out. Even knowing that the crime was real and the Clutters were real people who were murdered really didn't make me care about them or feel sorry for what took place (in the context of this story). I would have loved to hear more about the author's process in researching the novel but my ARC didn't come with an afterword or author's note (if there was one).
Wanting to like the book didn't help me actually like it, unfortunately. As a teacher, I can't think of a group of students I would recommend it to. Maybe a true crime buff who is still too young for actual true crime novels and needs a "light" crime read? It wouldn't even be good for reluctant readers because even though it is a quick read, it is difficult to follow in places and even I lost track sometimes. ...more