‘The Outliers’ by Kimberly McCreight: A Gripping, Unputdownable Thriller (Book Review)
The Outliers follows two teens on a risk-it-all mission to find their missing friend. From Kimberly McCreight, the New York Times bestselling author of the 2013 hit Reconstructing Amelia, the story – the first in an action-packed trilogy – follows Wylie Lang and Jasper Salt on a breathless journey to reach Cassie, who's both Wylie’s best pal and Jasper’s girlfriend.
Wylie, our main character and point of view, is riddled with troubles even before she receives mysterious texts from Cassie asking her to retrieve her from an undisclosed location. Wylie’s had agoraphobia since the recent death of her mother in addition to a host of other anxieties she’s had her entire life, so for Cassie to ask this of her, Wylie assumes it must be extremely important and time sensitive. Packing up some supplies, she enlists Cassie’s boyfriend Jasper Salt – who she isn't fond of – as her driver before her emotional-intelligence studying scientist dad returns home to find her gone.
Wylie’s anxiety is constantly mentioned throughout the book, and McCreight does a good job of making us really feel the panic that Wylie does at seemingly innocuous moments. While it proves difficult for her to leave the house, entering convenience stores and diners don’t seem to bother her later on in the story, though it seems McCreight may be hiding a reason for that somewhere in Book #2. Otherwise, that inconsistency did raise some questions as a reader.
Wylie’s partner-in-rescue Jasper Salt (the ultimate YA love interest name… just saying) is the misunderstood
bad boy good guy. Jasper built up a negative reputation at school, leading Wylie to blame him for Cassie’s recent downward spiral into partying and mild drug use. But as the two stubbornly head off on their journey together, she realizes she's misjudged him in every way possible and the two end up building a strong, mismatched bond that we see throughout the story.
And then there’s Cassie. She’s been through it all: eating problems, weight issues, low self-esteem, drinking, drugs – and all she wants is to feel special. She’s a minor side character for most of the book, and only seen in present time via her texts to Wylie. Flashbacks also give us an idea of why she and Wylie became friends in the first place – and how their friendship fell apart. Cassie is pretty 2D at first, only taking shape once Jasper and Wylie finally reach her – not that it makes her character any more likeable, though that doesn’t feel like the point. You don’t have to like Cassie to care about how much Wylie and Jasper care about her.
We also meet an ensemble of misfit characters, who are each distinct in more than one way, which is fun. McCreight does a great job of giving us a wide variety of characters and personalities, all of whom fit the "trust no one" trope going on throughout. After reading this book you may develop a major sense of paranoia about the people around you, as the author makes you second-guess every figure.
About 250 pages in, you start to glean what is actually going on (or you think you do… no spoilers here!), and it’s a huge So This Is What Kind Of Book This Is moment. The first 75% of the story is a straight action-thriller: two kids desperately trying to get to their friend hours away, across state lines, at an undisclosed location. They have car trouble. They run from people in the woods, and they spend most of the time scared out of their minds. But when Jasper and Wylie get where they’re going, the whole story flips on its head – more than once.
I won’t reveal how it flips, but just know that it does, and it's an interesting, almost genre-switching change as it teeters off toward sci-fi. The book you first picked up is gone, replaced with something completely new… and nuts (in a good way). An aspect of the storyline is slightly reminiscent of Andrew Smith’s The Alex Crow, and the two books also share deliciously-twisted pacing and OMG moments.
While The Outliers is an easy and exciting page-turner, it’s important to note that at its core, this is a story about loss. Wylie has lost her mother and it has wrecked her. She is desperate not to lose her best friend too. She loses a lot throughout this story, and how she copes with that loss only makes her stronger. It’s pretty empowering to see Wylie transform into a motivated and calculating badass (mostly) by the end of the book.
Overall, The Outliers was an unexpected, quick-paced and shocking read that was easy to get lost in. However, it was also completely exhausting. After all those twists (and that running!), it’s hard to imagine Wylie even being able to stand after the turmoil she’s put through in 352 pages, and as a reader my mind was somersaulting and sprinting to the end right there with her. Even if you find the twists ridiculous (which they may sometimes seem), you can’t say this book isn’t entertaining and compelling. And isn’t that what YA thrillers are all about?
Release date: May 3, 2016
Genre: YA Adventure Thriller
PopCrush rating: 4/5
I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to HarperTeen for providing it to me!