2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: The Body Lies by Jo Baker

This was a powerful read and I really connected with it – even when I was hating the decisions being made by nearly everyone at nearly every step of the way… I’m not sure I’d call it “thrilling psychological suspense” or “a breathless cat-and-mouse game” though, and am afraid the billing will set up some readers for a disappointment the book doesn’t deserve. This is a slow-burn, thoughtful, provocative look at what it means to be a victim and a woman, and even though the categories overlap here, I think the messages are bigger than that and don’t have to. At every step of the way, I found myself second-guessing the decisions being made, rolling my eyes, and cringing – and then a few pages later wondering whether I wouldn’t have done many of the same things were I in the protagonist’s shoes.

This was an unusually introspective book for me, particularly given that my life is/has been absolutely NOTHING like hers. There’s an undercurrent of fear that underpins everything she does, coupled with a sense of the inevitability of disappointment and settling for whatever is handed to her. I am happy to say I’ve never felt that steady negative influence in my own life, but I could still relate to it and it made the read feel very personal and resonant.

I do think that things took a slightly forced turn when things came to a head with her “troubled student” and his writing. It felt like the book shifted gears from the more inward-focused tone of the beginning to the higher-octane promise of the blurb. Frankly, I could have done without that bit of forced drama. Tension and threat were twin malevolent forces that permeated the book from the beginning and there didn’t need to be any extra action on the table for me to identify the pervasive sense of menace that she lived under throughout the entire story.

Still, the book as a whole worked well despite that shift in pacing. I think it didn’t upset the flow for me because of the multiple narrative perspectives and sidebars from the main story that the students’ stories provided throughout. Oddly, they brought me more fully into their class and their lives, rather than distracted me (which I think often happens with a story-within-the-story). It made the whole book a little unsettling, which was (I think) the point.

Jo Baker is definitely on my “to watch” list now. She encapsulated what it means to be afraid – ontologically, cosmically afraid – in a way that felt palpable and relatable without ever feeling overblown. There’s a line at the end (it’s not really a spoiler but sort of so I won’t say more) about a boy growing into a man who will always know what it is to not be safe. It blew me away in its stark simplicity and spot-on encapsulation of the way that fear and safety shape our decisions and personalities – and ultimately, our lives. This was a powerful story and one that will stick with me.

Thanks to Penguin First to Read for my review copy. The Body Lies releases in the U.S. on June 18, 2019.

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