“Everything You Want Me to Be” by Mindy Mejia
Atria/Emily Bestler Books (ebook), 352 pages
Published Jan. 3, 2017
“What could happen to any of us if we pursue our darkest desires? What do we lose of ourselves when we cross that line? What does it cost those around us?”
High school senior Hattie Hoffman seems to have it all. She’s confident, popular, whip-smart, ambitious, loved by her friends and family, doted on by her football star boyfriend, and ridiculously talented on the stage. She dreams of escaping the small Minnesota town where she’s spent her whole life, to pursue an acting career in New York City.
But what most people, even those who think they know her, don’t fully realize is just how much of her seemingly-perfect life is an act. She’s a chameleon, shifting her demeanor and attitude to suit her environment and get what she wants – as the devoted best friend, the top student, the twitterpated girlfriend, the loving daughter, the friendly CVS photo clerk.
“You say you’re just acting, but you’re fracturing yourself into a thousand pieces, and every time I see another piece, you’re gone again. You turn into someone else, a crowd of someone elses, and it makes me wonder if there’s any such thing as Hattie Hoffman.”
When Hattie is found brutally stabbed to death the day after opening night of her high school’s production of “Macbeth,” in which she plays the female lead of Lady Macbeth, another more dangerous role Hattie has played throughout her senior year comes to light.
The sinister story of how Hattie met her demise unfolds from the alternating perspectives of County Sheriff Del Goodman (who happens to be a close friend of the Hoffman family), Hattie’s English teacher and drama director Peter Lund, and Hattie herself.
Although the story jumps around somewhat, as Del’s role in the book doesn’t factor in until he begins investigating Hattie’s death, Mindy Mejia succeeds in weaving together the narratives of all three central characters to lay out what went wrong. She manages this by bringing in Del’s take typically whenever a piece of the puzzle is introduced regarding what Hattie has been up to during the school year.
There are so many twists and turns in the story that, just when I thought I knew who killed Hattie, Mejia would deliver another bombshell and my suspicions would shift. This kept up literally until the last few pages and I was in total shock when the real killer was revealed.
The depth of the main characters is just unreal. Mejia could devote entire novels not only to Hattie (who, in a nutshell – ha, she is kinda nuts, actually – is a teenage version of Amy from “Gone Girl”) but to Del, to Hattie’s parents and active-military brother Greg, to Peter and his emotionally-distant wife Mary, etc. The best part about this is that their personal histories don’t detract from the main plot. Instead, they enhance it. Their own experiences outside of knowing Hattie seem to shape how they handle her death and the dramatic investigation that ensues. I found myself grieving with them, even though I knew Hattie had pulled the wool over their eyes. She was still their daughter, their friend, etc.
Throughout the book, there is a pulsing undercurrent of fear and anger as the community demands answers. That really adds a lot to the small-town setting, really makes Pine Valley come alive.
Hats off to Mejia for the way she approached the investigation aspect. If she didn’t already have inside knowledge of law enforcement and forensics, she must have done her homework (at least as far as I can tell, given my very limited expertise). The conversations between Del and his chief deputy, the searches for evidence, Del’s interactions with suspects and Hattie’s friends and family – all of it seems pretty believable for a work of fiction. There are a couple of times when Del says or does things that seem a bit questionable, but they’re so minor I can’t even recall them.
“Everything You Want Me to Be” is a masterfully-written, captivating and unpredictable tale of how a small town can harbor dark secrets, and how easily we can be fooled by someone we think we know like the back of our hand.
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
About the author
The author of “The Dragon Keeper” and “Everything You Want Me To Be,” Mindy Mejia lives and works in the Twin Cities.
Mindy received a BA from the University of Minnesota and an MFA from Hamline University. Apart from brief stops in Iowa City and Galway, she’s lived in the Twin Cities her entire life and held a succession of jobs from an apple orchard laborer to a global credit manager.