The Amateurs by Sara Shepard
Genre: Mystery, Crime Solving
Published by: Hot Key Books
Format: ARC e-book
I was really excited by the first couple of chapters of The Amateurs, because the concept was just so cool for a girl that wishes she was Nancy Drew. The main characters, Seneca and Maddy are both part of this online forum, Case Not Closed, that gives people access to information about unsolved, cold cases the police have given up on. Using contacts, members of the website are able to solve the unsolvable and play the detective. Another of the characters, Aerin, whose sister Helena goes missing in the flashback that opens the book, posts a plea for help on Helena’s case. Seneca and Maddy, previously only friends online, meet IRL to answer the plea. It sounds super great, right? Well, after I kept reading, I grew slowly more incredulous and…dissatisfied? Here’s why:
Objectification of female characters = NO.
The book is told in third person, and as you meet more characters, you get to go with them on their side adventures. For Maddy, I had a track side seat to his training sessions with his coach, Catherine, who has….big breasts? Yeah, sure, she’s an amazing runner with awards and all, but there was a lot more chest contact than eye contact.
Perpetuating the friend zone’s existence = NO.
Brett arrived on the scene and had an instant attraction to Aerin. (Again, she was a blonde with an above average bra size, so it was inevitable. (PSA: women have personalities, thank you.)) When we were with Brett, it was obvious he wanted to date her, but when we were with Aerin, it was obvious she just liked the fun of flirting with a guy with no commitment. No problems there. Until the final chapters, when Brett makes it seem like a crime that Aerin dates someone else instead, and feels she was leading him on.
He was not put in the friend zone, because no such thing exists. Girls don’t owe boys who flirt with them any favours, and Brett’s saltiness over Aerin’s unconscious decision to love someone else tainted my opinion of him irreversibly.
More suspects than Celaena Sardothien has love interests.
If, in a mystery novel, it’s declared that the killer is found with more than ten percent to go until the end, the verdict is 100% false. Throughout The Amateurs, the team just seemed to work through every person connected to Helena, claiming each of them to be guilty in turn until proven otherwise. It felt a little cluttered, especially when Catherine was pulled into it somehow, and then someone we never even suspected turned out to be involved too.
It felt very Sara Shepard, to give a chapter at the end that completely messed with everything you thought was true. It happened in The Perfectionists and it happened here. Whereas in The Perfectionists, I thought it was well pulled off, this had me like ???!?
It’s a risk to pull a plot twist that big, and for me, it didn’t slide. It would be like claiming that A, in Pretty Little Liars, didn’t exist all along and it was all a dream or something.
BUT, I did really like one element of the book…
Madison, who happens to be my namesake, was probably my favourite character. The Korean stepsister of Maddy, she added diversity to the group but most importantly, insight. The stereotype she defied was ‘stoners-are-useless’. She alerted the group to the existence of an app that was crucial to determining the guilty party, she got them access to a big party in order to scope out suspects and she was fun to be around. To paraphrase Aerin, she was an unproblematic fave.
And while Brett wasn’t my favourite character, he defied that stereotype ‘all-boys-interested-in-fashion-are-gay’. I was so pleased with this one because it occurs so often. Brett’s grandmother was a fashion icon, and he was extremely good at picking out outfits for the girls but he was straight. Although I thought this book was definitely lacking LGBT+ rep, Brett would have been too obvious a pick, so I’m glad it was avoided.
Apparently, there’s going to be a sequel and I have no idea how that’s going to work, or whether I’ll read it. I think my rating of 2.5 stars, might be slightly generous, but I can’t forget that I initially enjoyed the concept, the camaraderie and the genre overall.