Publishing Info: August 2, 2016 by Penguin
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery/Thriller, Thriller
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: July 28, 2016
17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to "evolve," as Beau, the retreat leader, says.
Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman's not sure, but more than anyone he's ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.
The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he's failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.
And then, in an instant Arman can't believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.
As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he's always trusted the least: himself.
I actually received THE SMALLER EVIL to review in two forms — a hardcover from Penguin and an audiobook from The Listening Library. Since I’ve been slow to read my physical forms, I quickly started up the audio in the hopes of a fast and fierce thriller that would keep me on the edge of my seat! I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from THE SMALLER EVIL but the book was surely unique from my usual reads.
I’ve heard that Stephanie Kuehn incorporates an interesting, twisty side to her novels and that was definitely true for THE SMALLER EVIL. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, though. I tend to go into books (mostly) blind and usually this enhances my reading experience but sometimes the books catch me by surprise. THE SMALLER EVIL caught me a little by surprise since I didn’t realize exactly what the plot entailed. This was definitely more of a cult-feel although the group that Arman becomes involved with is never really blatantly called a cult (though it is speculated later in Arman’s stream of consciousness) but that’s what I’m calling it and the atmosphere was just … weird. I have a hard time with cults and too many times I just wanted to shake these people like, “What are you thinking??” I think it’s just something that’s hard for me to read about and doesn’t make for the most exciting topic since it’s frustrating!
There were several moments in the book that I thought didn’t need to be as extreme as they were — from random sexual encounters to moments of panic to character details — there were a few things that were just over the top that I didn’t quite buy into. This was my first book of Stephanie Kuehn’s and I was hoping I’d love that dark and twisty feel but this was not the way I expected it to come out. I was hoping for more psychological thriller that messed with my head and instead I was mostly just confused. It was thrilling and the book did mess with me a little bit but then things quickly fizzled out again once they got twisty. I was excited for a massive twist but it didn’t quite happen.
The ending was mostly disappointing. Some things were wrapped up but mostly I felt like I didn’t know why this whole thing happened. Yes, Arman grew and learned from this experience but why this experience? Why a cult? The things that were grandiose weren’t the things that I wanted to be large and then the places I hoped for something big to happen, it just didn’t. I felt like there were missed opportunities and the story just really didn’t quite come together for me.
Source: Received for review from Listening Library
Narrator: Ryan Gessel
Performance: Pretty decent but I didn’t really fall in love
This was the first narration I’ve heard from Ryan Gessel and it was a good performance. Nothing outstanding, not one of my favorites, but it was a solid narration and his voice was very pleasant to listen to but I didn’t feel like he got a lot of emotion into the book. His narration was kind of flat so I wasn’t super engaged but it wasn’t enough that I got bored. I probably wouldn’t actively seek out books that he narrates but I’d definitely be up for another one if it was a book I wanted to read!
“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!
Kept Me Hooked On: Fast-paced thrillers. I kind of love when books are short and to the point. It’s exciting to see a book that’s shorter and doesn’t need to be filled with extra stuff just to fill the pages. I loved that THE SMALLER EVIL was a very quick read!
Left Me Wanting More: Connection. I didn’t feel like this book connected. One moment things were starting to make sense and then it was back to confusion, but not in the way that I normally like thrilers. I like to be confused but in a sense that a twist has gotten me. I was mostly just feeling like this book was all over the place and I had no idea how it came togehter.
Get a second opinion
I wouldn’t outright recommend it but I also wouldn’t say entirely skip it. I think if you see elements of the book that you might enjoy and you like this atmosphere, it’s worth the shot. If you’re hesitant, I’d say maybe skip it.
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(Click the cover to see my review!)