It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love. Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone could ever imagine...
A group of Boston teenagers travel to the island of Aruba for their senior year Spring Break. Included in this group are best friends Anna and Elise. When Elise's body is found murdered in her hotel room, stabbed a gruesome thirteen times, Anna quickly becomes the #1 suspect in the investigation. But Anna vehemently pleads innocence, and the story becomes her fight to regain her good name and freedom as she sits in an Aruban correctional facility, awaiting the murder trial.
While it is not revealed or directly referenced anywhere within the novel itself or Haas' author afterword, a reader can't help but feel that this story had to be at least a little bit inspired by the true crime Natalee Holloway case. There are just too many similarities.
* Young teens on Spring Break choose Aruba as their destination
* Victim Elise, first night on the island, begins flirting with young 20something hot guy in a club whose overall look, it's pointed out, just screams money. But her friends warn her that they get a bad vibe off him, not to go off alone with him.
That's just early on in the book. Then there's the media spin illustrated in the story. One brief moment of Anna's boyfriend saying something lighthearted to her to distract her from her emotional pain even for a second, and her momentary smile is snapped by a paparrazzi photographer and splashed across all sorts of media sources with the angle that Anna appears disturbing heartless, considering the circumstances -- "unconcerned, unfeeling", "sickening lack of empathy", "sociopathic", etc. One by one, as the story picks up more and more media coverage, Anna's friends begin to turn on her in the interest of fame.
Now, while this particular element is original to Haas' imagination, she does write in the character of Clara Rose, a court case analyst with a tv news show recognizably similar in style to Nancy Grace. Clara Rose is even described as having a blonde bobbed hairstyle and a southern accent, y'all.
The show cuts to commercial again. This time, every woman in the room is staring at me.
I try to remind myself how to breathe.
I knew it was bad out there. Even locked up, I've seen glimpses of newspapers and TV news. It wasn't as if I thought everyone would be lined up, protesting my innocence, but still, Clara's show takes my breath away. I thought it would be more...balanced. Isn't that what the news is supposed to do? Present both sides of the story, fairly, not jump to conclusions based on leaked information and biased statements? We're still months away from the trial; even Ellingham swore they didn't have enough evidence to convict, so where's the support? Some kind of outcry about my arrest? Instead, they showed nothing on my side -- no mention of Juan, or Tate's lies and cheating, the balcony issue, or all the problems with the crime scene -- nothing, not one hint that I might be innocent in all this. They assume I'm guilty and they can't wait to see me burn.
But as I said, even with the similarities, there are aspects of this story that are uniquely Haas' creation, particularly when it comes to the ending of this novel. While I wasn't always glued to the page, Haas successfully keeps the suspense going enough that I was most definitely invested in seeing how things turned out. She incorporates an interesting cast of shady characters and casts enough doubt on everyone that you just have to see where all the twistedness concludes!
Looking back now, I see how naive we all were. I stepped into that courtroom believing I'd have a fair shot -- a chance to state my case and be heard, the way you're supposed to. But the real truth is, it's all a performance. The trial is no different from the Clara Rose Show, in its way, only instead of a film studio with lights and cameras, we have the courtroom as our stage. The lawyers and witnesses are all actors; the judge is our audience, and whoever can sell their version of the script -- make you believe it, whether it's fact or fiction -- they're the one who wins. It's that simple. Evidence is just a prop; you can ignore it and look the other way, and even the script doesn't matter when some supporting actor can improvise their scenes and steal the whole show.
Anna's story also brings up a good point: that if enough digging were done in virtually anyone's life, we could ALL be made to look guilty of something if enough spin were put on it. For example, one of the points the prosecution team brings out is Anna having lyrics from a Florence & The Machine song scrawled on a school binder, lyrics that they claim clearly illustrate her mental instability.
Those are somebody else's words that I scrawled on my notebook during a boring class, and now he's holding them up as some kind of proof of my "violent urges". Why doesn't he go further, and pull up my DVR records and all the horror movies I used to watch, curled tightly against Tate on the living room couch? Why not go through my bookcase for every crime novel he can find?
Wouldn't we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?
As it turns out, the song they reference is actually one of my FATM songs (mainly because it has a cool, unique rhythm to it) so it gave me, as the reader, a jerked back reaction of Whoah, what might I be judged on, what innocuous things about my life or interests could be spun into something incriminating. It does make you pause and wonder!