Entangled Publishing, 2011
by REBECCA, November 19, 2012
Archer: a thoughtful loner who will go to any lengths for Vivian, the best friend he adores
Vivian: a beautiful manipulator with a troubled past and a cruel streak where Archer is concerned
Evan: the sweet new guy, who likes Archer and wants to have a real relationship
Archer and Vivian have been best friends since they were kids. Now, in college, Vivian is really Archer’s only friend, and their relationship is on her terms. Archer goes along with it because something horrible happened to Vivian . . . and he thinks he might be able to make it right. But will trying to make Vivian happy cost him the only person who’s ever really loved him?
Yowza! I believe that this is what those in the biz would call a “dark” book. For Archer, the world begins and ends with Vivian, his best friend—he’s comforted her, laughed with her, lusted after her . . . and killed for her. Indeed, he’s not sure he even knows who he is outside of his co-dependent relationship with Vivian. Until, one day, he meets Evan, a sweet guy who goes to school with him and lives in his apartment complex. Evan is steady, calm, and (despite Evan’s anti-social awkwardness) seems to like Evan for who he is, which most people do not. As Archer begins spending more time with Evan, he slowly comes to realize that whereas perhaps when they were kids they had a real friendship, now Vivian guilts and manipulates him, while she has relationship after relationship with horrible, abusive men.
Hushed could easily have gone the route of melodramatic soap opera with its murders and its entangled relationships. Instead, it’s a dark portrait of the lengths to which guilt and love can push us, and the work it can take to untangle ourselves from the people we love. Kelley York‘s writing is straightforward and clipped, providing the perfect counterbalance to the sensational subject matter.
Archer’s character was, for me, extremely sympathetic even though—and this is the part that impressed me—I didn’t want him to kill anyone. Sometimes authors make murderers very sympathetic because they’re doing something that needs to be done, exacting justice where none would exist without them; it’s much harder, though, to build up the psychology of a character enough that the reader is on their side even while wishing they would not exact their version of justice. I began the book not sure at all that I would end up in that camp (the murder happens on the first page, so I’m really giving nothing away here). But Archer was, for me, quite appealing. Rarely has a character better demonstrated that sometimes being loved really can make people willing to try and do better.
Hushed was a great combination of genres: it’s set in a realist world, and it has an element of suspense and action, but it’s not a mystery or a thriller; it’s mainly a contemporary drama about relationships, but they’re so intertwined with the suspense that it has that great love in the trenches feel to it.
what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?
The relationships really are the core of the story. Archer and Vivian’s messed up relationship feels very authentic to me, as does the turns it’s taken to become twisted where once it was nourishing. Archer’s relationship with his mother is also really interesting, though I won’t say anything more for spoilery reasons. But if Archer’s relationship with Vivian is the one that’s crippling him, miring him in the past, his relationship with Evan is the one that pulls him forward, offering him hope not only for the future, but for himself as a person. Although undoubtedly appealing, Evan is the kind of character that could come off a bit too-good-to-be-true-vanilla-generic. He’s a sweet guy who swims a lot and is close with his family; he sees through Archer’s loner façade to the loving person within; etc.
But, Even transcends these qualities because of the depths he’s willing to go to for Archer. The pacing of their relationship was my favorite thing about Hushed, and I think York made a really smart choice by having it build extremely slowly. When they first meet there is the inkling of an attraction between them, but Archer is so focused on his habitual desire for Vivian that it barely registers for him. He wonders why Evan doesn’t pick up on his usual I-vant-to-be-alone terseness, and wonders why Evan wants to hang out with him. Little by little, though, as he comes to believe that Evan enjoys him, he begins to allow himself to enjoy Evan, too.
Their friendship builds to a romantic relationship slowly, but with no zigs and zags. There are impediments (*cough* Vivian *cough*), sure, but there is never, for example, any discussion of or crisis around sexual orientation, which was awesome. That was one of the things that felt most realistic to me: the fluid shift of hanging out with someone you like, to depending on them, to spending all your time with them, to developing romantic and sexual feelings for them. What was even better was that no one in the book discussed Archer’s relationship with Evan in terms of his sexual orientation either, even Vivian. And that is something that I’m so happy to see in a YA book.
All in all, Hushed was a real sleeper hit for me. I’ve wanted to read it for a while because the premise intrigued me, but it never quite jumped in front of my car. Then, I was just in the mood for it and it was so solid and quiet and compelling! It was a fast read, but had a lot of grit to it—you know, in a good way, like Tom Waits’ voice. And it has plot twists galore, believe me; I just didn’t want to give anything away. This is Kelley York’s first novel, and it’s impressively assured and effortless. I’m also excited to read her forthcoming book, Made of Stars.
The Talented Mr. Ripley series, by Patricia Highsmith (1955). In a way, Archer reminded me a little of what I imagine Tom Ripley might have been like at 18. I adore Highsmith’s series, and I think they’d have a lot to say to a reader of Hushed.
With Or Without You, by Brian Farrey (2011). With Or Without You is great contemporary realism that features a sensitive male protagonist placed in dangerous situations. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but you can check out my full review HERE.
Stick, by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of Stick is HERE.