If the Jason Bourne movies had a baby with the show Alias, it might look a lot like the awesomeness that is The Cruelty. I guess the author, Scott Bergstrom, ticked off some people in the YA community based on what I saw on Goodreads, but the truth is that I read the book with no knowledge of any controversy (nor have I bothered to really research it since), and I loved the story. It was so hard to put down that I just quit trying. I gave The Cruelty five stars, but I will say this doesn’t really read like YA, and it isn’t appropriate for younger readers.
When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.
The Cruelty is wildly engaging once the action kicks off. Gritty, suspenseful, and full of dangerous maneuvering – I just couldn’t put it down. And it is more than just action – this main character has real development and reflection that I thought added somuch to the impact of the story. I will say I wasn’t sold right away. The author takes time to develop a baseline for the main character, and that baseline is the polar opposite of what I wanted her to be. It is essential, though, because it really shows you how far down the rabbit hole this character goes in her quest for answers to her father’s disappearance. It blew me away. I also want to make it clear that the only YA element of this story is the main character’s age. This isn’t a cute, bumbling wanna-be “spy girl” getting help finding her dad – this chick is all in, and often on her own. There is much murder and mayhem, and the shadowy places she descends to are really full of all the awfulness the world has to offer. I’m an adult reader, so I didn’t flinch, but younger YA readers might find it a little too intense (and their parents will probably stroke out). That being said, I would be hard pressed to name a book that would be more likely hold my high school readers in thrall than The Cruelty. I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist, and I would recommend it to more mature fans of the old middle school spy books and thrillers like Alex Rider or Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick and even to those who enjoyed Jennifer Barnes’ The Natural’s series. Mature language, heaps of violence and references to the sex trade and trafficking make this one most appropriate for grades 11+.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.