Book Review: Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul

Posted October 26, 2015 by Stormy in Book Reviews, Books / 5 Comments

Underneath Everything

by Marcy Beller Paul

Underneath Everything

Expected Publication Date: October 27, 2015
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my final opinion of the work.
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Mattie shouldn’t be at the bonfire. She should be finding new maps for her collection, hanging out with Kris, and steering clear of almost everyone else, especially Jolene. After all, Mattie and Kris dropped off the social scene the summer after sophomore year for a reason.

But now Mattie is a senior, and she’s sick of missing things. So here she is.

And there’s Jolene: Beautiful. Captivating. Just like the stories she wove. Mattie would know; she used to star in them. She and Jolene were best friends. Mattie has the scar on her palm to prove it, and Jolene has everything else, including Hudson.

But when Mattie runs into Hudson and gets a glimpse of what could have been, she decides to take it all back: the boyfriend, the friends, the life she was supposed to live. Problem is, Mattie can’t figure out where Jolene ends and she begins.

Because there’s something Mattie hasn’t told anyone–she walked away from Jolene over a year ago, but she never really left.

Poignant and provocative, Marcy Beller Paul’s debut novel tells the story of an intoxicating—and toxic—relationship that blurs the boundary between reality and fantasy, love and loyalty, friendship and obsession.

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I love YA novels about friendship in all its varieties. I know if I want a book that shows a strong, healthy female friendship, I can pick up an Emery Lord novel. If I want a book that looks at a toxic, unhealthy, obsessive friendship. . . well I’ll be picking up Underneath Everything.

Being her best friend wasn’t a pinkie-swear kind of thing. It was rabid: a deep cut instead of a drop of blood; smashed glass instead of a store-bought necklace. It was thrilling, the lengths she’d go to for me. The violence. The intensity.

A year ago, Mattie walked away from Jolene. She walked away from the confusion, the lows, the fear. . . but also the highs, the joys, and the intensity. Now Jolene has broken up with Hudson, the guy Mattie’s had her eye on, but as Hudson and Mattie start something, Mattie starts to get drawn to the other enigmatic girl once again. As the story unfolds, frequent flashbacks help tell the story of why Jolene and Mattie were such good friends in the first place, what happened to split them apart, and why Mattie is once again filling Jolene’s pull.

I’m not always a fan of frequent flashbacks, but I thought they really worked in Underneath Everything. Those scenes managed to accomplish so many things. They showed the blurred lines of Jolene and Mattie’s friendship, and the intensity of it all, as well as the slow creeping of realizing how toxic the friendship really was. At times, Underneath Everything verged a bit on the frightening side, but not because of any horror. Rather, the novel shows the ins and outs of this friendship so well that I couldn’t help but to often shake my head. It might not be as dramatic, but who hasn’t had those friendships were something sat not quite right with you?

There’s romance and family drama, but everything comes secondary to the friendship. I’m not sure if everyone will like this, but I sure did! Well, perhaps “like” is the right word. But I thought Underneath Everything did a great job of exploring an unhealthy, all-encompassing relationship. When I’ve seen previous toxic relationships explored in YA, they’ve always been romantic in nature, and bad-for-you friendships are left to be a side plot if it’s included in a book. Underneath Everything delves in to that in-to-deep feeling and reality. Even when Mattie’s with Hudson, her love interest, so much of her life revolves around Jolene. Her lines become incredibly blurred and the way the novel shows the blending between reality and Mattie’s perception of the world is deftly done.

Despite the fact it sometimes felt like not a lot happened, Underneath Everything is a fast-moving book. I read it in a day and practically raced through it. There’s a lot of introspection, but the narrative never feels weighed down by it. I also liked that Marcy Beller Paul didn’t go for the standard route with her characters. These girls may be “unlikable”(I tend to love unlikable female characters, by the way, so that in no way is meant to be a condemnation), but I wouldn’t call them catty. There’s a maturity to the story I didn’t expect, and I don’t mean in terms of content. While the friendship between Mattie and Jolene is never idolized, it was handled with an even hand. Even as I could see, with the wisdom of a few more years than these characters, WHY this friendship was so awful for Maddie, I also understood why she was continually drawn to Jolene again and again.

If you’re interested in reading a well-written YA about an unhealthy and toxic boundary-blurring friendship, Underneath Everything is well worth a read.

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I was quite impressed with this debut, from the writing to the characterization. Recommend for sure. 4/5 cupcakes.

 

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4 Stars

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5 responses to “Book Review: Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul

  1. I have an ARC of this from BEA I should be getting to. I’m glad to hear that it worked well for you, I actually didn’t realize it was about a toxic friendship not romantic relationship. I’m actually happy about that!

    • Stormy

      It’s definitely a blurry line relationship between romance & friendship, but I would consider it a toxic friendship more than anything else. Really interesting!

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