Saturday, September 24, 2016

*Review* The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn

Genre: YA/Thriller
Published: August 2, 2016
Pages: 248


Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.
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 received a copy of this book through Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.

This book was confusing, but it's supposed to be, I think. We see basically the whole story from Arman's perspective, and he is kept in the dark for a reason. That reason may or may not be revealed in the end (honestly, I still have some questions which makes this a bit of a choose your own ending kind of story, except the choices are endless because they're all in your head.) 

This book took me straight into the heart of a cult, and it's very clear that's what it's about (the only thing that is absolutely clear about this book is that it's about a cult in fact.) As a fairly self-assured thirty-two year old woman, I have a hard time understanding how people could get sucked into a cult, but through the eyes of Arman, it makes a lot of sense. I found myself kind of wanting to be part of it all too.

I felt connected to Arman and really feel like I understand as much about him as any teenager trying to figure out who they are understands about themselves. 

Overall I give The Smaller Evil 4 out of 5 stars because it kept me intrigued until the end. - Katie 

Buy the Book

About the Author

Stephanie Kuehn holds degrees in linguistics and sport psychology, as well as a doctorate in clinical psychology. Her debut young adult novel, CHARM & STRANGE, was the winner of the 2014 William C. Morris Debut YA Award, and her second novel for teens, COMPLICIT, was named to YALSA's 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Stephanie was also awarded the 2015 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for her forthcoming novel, THE PRAGMATIST, and her most recent book, DELICATE MONSTERS, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Stephanie lives in Northern California with her husband, their three children, and a joyful abundance of pets.

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