Well, despite a slow start, several very short reads have enabled me to reach this, #20 for my #20BooksofSummer list! I’ll post a full update in my July Rearview.
Unfortunately, What Lies Within within was a rather weak way to end the list, and actually only garners a 1/5 for me.
Mostly, I really hated the protagonist, Shelley. From the beginning, the 17-year-old set herself up to be obnoxious, selfish, whiny, entitled, and basically unlikable. I thought that maybe she would grow and change as a person throughout the story, but instead she ended up merely adding prideful and hypocritical to her list of attributes.
The basic premise/opening of the story had some promise. Shelley is sitting in school one day when she receives a text message from an unfamiliar number. The text message tells her that she is in danger. When Shelley tries to find out who is at the other end of the line, he tells her that he is her brother – even though she’s an only child. At first, Shelley totally blows this weirdo off – except then it turns out that he’s right.
Be forewarned: The rest of this rant may or may not involve spoilers, and will definitely involve ‘sorta kinda’ spoilers, so if you have intentions of reading this book (please don’t), you probably won’t want to read any further…
This really felt like it could have been an exciting, engaging story. Instead, Morris’s habit of killing off virtually everyone while providing weak, poorly-explained explanations and forcing me to follow around whiny, boring, self-entitled Shelley meant that I ended up reading this book with the same sort of fascinated horror one gets from watching the proverbial train wreck.
I was especially offended by Shelley’s stance on adoption. Early in the story she finds out that she was adopted and that her dad never told her. (Shelley’s mom died in a train wreck several years ago. We don’t actually know how many years ago because Morris only tells us that it happened on 9/11, but doesn’t bother to inform us how many years ago 9/11 was…) Despite the fact that Shelley’s dad is a fantastic, supportive, kind, indulgent man, Shelley treats him like trash consistently and blames him for all of her self-imposed problems. I really liked the way that she immediately accused him of ‘lying’ and demanded to know what else he had been ‘lying’ to her about. While yes, not telling someone that she is adopted is a pretty big deal, she never even vaguely kinda sorta attempted to see things from his point of view – that he and his wife had always planned to tell her; that the wife had died; that he never could decide when was the ‘right’ time to have this conversation; etc.
And then there was this:
Yet through the maelstrom of her mind, she latched onto a silver lining. For as long as she could remember, she felt as though she didn’t belong, as if she was a foreign exchange student, learning customs that never made sense. … But the adoption explained everything.
I am literally living in the wrong home.
No wonder she felt like an alien. The subtleties that bound families, the sense of humor, the shared behaviors, those came from sharing blood. She had only shared space and time.
Excuse my French, but the hell. Her parents adopted her at birth. They have loved and cherished every moment of her life. But she’s ‘living in the wrong home’?! She ‘only shared space and time’!? I’ve mentioned before that I have a sister who is adopted; I know multiple families who have adopted; and I find it pretty damn offensive that apparently that’s all completely pointless because the only way to become a member of a family is by sharing blood.
And here’s the kicker – that’s really basically the point of this entire story. Turns out that Shelley is one of thirteen infants who were all created as a social experiment by some whack-job of a genetics professor who was trying to prove that nature always triumphs over nurture. He used genetic material from twelve of the worst criminals he could find and created children out of them; he donated his own sperm to create Shelley. Besides the extremely dubious legality of such action, there around a billion holes in his theory, the way it all played out, and his conclusions. One of the biggest was that he ‘proved’ nature was stronger than nurture because ten of the children grew up to do terrible crimes – mass murders, school shootings, etc. Except… two of the kids aren’t violent at all…??? And basically they weren’t violent because we meet those two in the story, and of course Morris is going to kill them off (horrifically), so it’s important that we like them, I guess. Even though it makes his own story make no sense.
In the end, Shelley more or less goes more and more crazy. There’s this guy who has been hired by the government to swoop around on his motorcycle and murder all of these kids before they cause more trouble (because apparently being imprisoned for life isn’t good enough? Or something? Were all there kids not imprisoned? So vague), but Shelley ends up killing him – by locking him in the paint booth in her dad’s body shop and turning on the bake cycle. My husband actually paints cars for a living, and while he agreed that it is possible to kill someone this way, it’s not terribly efficient as it would take a bit of time. Plus, the booths usually have at least two exits, both equipped with emergency exit equipment, and literally all Shelley does is close the door. (And then walks away, and apparently has no problem leaving a dead body for her dad to discover – and try to explain to the police – the next day…)
Then, she dashes across town in her dad’s tow truck (which she’s never driven but seems to have no issues with even though it takes a special license to drive because it’s really big) and kills her birth dad, too – like literally guts him with a knife on his front porch. Then, leaving him to bleed out, she strolls back across town, wearing her borrowed, bloody clothes, tells her erstwhile BFF farewell, and then rides off into the sunset to become some sort of vigilante…?!?!!?!?
This was after chapters of her doing other, equally crazy (although not quite as violent) things, none of which really made sense. Also, throughout the whole thing she is plagued with these nightmares of killing people – and it’s literally never explained in the end. So I guess those were all just to build up a sense of dread? To emphasize that Shelley is ‘an alien’?
Oh, and I didn’t even mention the great scene where she visits her crush and then they go for a walk and just randomly have sex out in the woods and then I have to listen to Shelley agonize over whether or not losing her virginity was a good thing (it wasn’t), blah blah blah. Like the stupidity of the plot wasn’t enough, I also had to listen to all this whiny, angsty YA crap on top of everything else.
In the end, this book made me really angry. I hated Shelley, the plot was stupid and completely lacking in logic or cohesiveness, and the overall message – family is blood only; adoption is a waste of time; kids who are adopted will never really fit into their adopted families – was flat offensive. Negative stars for this one, and if I meet James Morris, I may kick him in the shins.
PS I will say that I am in the complete minority on this, as the book has almost a 3.9 average on Goodreads, and most people seemed to find it an enjoyable, fast-paced, engaging read. So maybe I’m just judging it a bit too harshly…