Saturday 23 July 2022

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Review: Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp held up by a white hand in front of rainbow shelves.

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Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Published: 15th September 2020 | Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire | Source: Won in a giveaway
Marieke Nijkamp’s Website

FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.

For five friends, this was supposed to be one last getaway before going their separate ways―a chance to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past three years. But they’re all dealing with their own demons, and they’re all hiding secrets.

Finn doesn’t trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.

When the lines between game and reality start to blend with deadly consequences, it’s a race against time before it’s game over―forever.

Are you ready to play?
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Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp was a book I had been intrigued by for a while, so I was really looking forward to it when I picked me up. And while I was really enjoying it at first, by the end, I had mixed feelings.

It's told from the perspective of all five characters. Everyone has something going on in their lives that the others don't know about. Things have been strained in their friendship group ever since Finn was the victim of a transphobic attack that Liva witnessed and did nothing. Maddy has also been struggling with the chronic pain she now deals with since having a car accident, Ever's family are extremely poor, and they feel the pressure of trying to look after their little sister and doing what they can to make things less awful. Carter's family expect him to do what they want him to, no matter if he feels differently, and Liva comes from a wealthy, privileged family, and that comes with it's own kind of expectations. What brought them together, and continues to hold them together, is their RPG LARP game, and they've gone to Liva's cabin up a mountain for their final game; some of them are off to college in the autumn. It's their last chance to try and fix things, and their last adventure together within the game. But soon the game becomes twisted, and people begin to die.

I was really into Even If We Break at first. I didn't know their were RPGs other than Dungeons and Dragons, and hadn't heard of LARPs before. It was brilliantly geeky, and I got really into the idea of their game. It was a murder mystery, as all their games were, with Ever as game master. We have the narrations of the game, followed by the friends performing in character, trying to figure out who killed someone. It was so fascinating, and right up my street, that I was actually kind of disappoint when the game was stopped because people started dying.

The tension was fantastic! I guessed early on who the antagonist was, but I had no idea exactly what was happening, why, or what was going to happen next. I was completely gripped, right on the edge of my seat. It was just brilliant; all alone in a cabin up a mountain, their phones stolen, and no easy way of getting out. It was right out of a horror movie, and I just loved it! But then things started to change. As I mentioned, everyone had secrets, things going on in their life they weren't talking about with other people. But those things mattered in regards to the situation they found themselves in, so there would be flashbacks. But they weren't handled very well, in my opinion. The tension would be high, and you're just waiting for something to happen, and then there would be a flashback that lasted several pages. It slowed the pace right down. Once we got back to the present, the tension was gone. It really threw me, having something awful happen without the tension, because what was built dissipated with the flashback. And then there were times in the present when there was a lot of waiting for the next bit. The characters were scared and on edge, but nothing would happen for quite a while, and again, it slowed right down.

When we have the big reveal, I was also disappointed. We were left with too many questions. I never fully understood why they were doing what they were doing. I wish that had been explored further, or if there had been an actual conversation where the antagonist explained themselves, rather than us having a brief explanation. What was the plan? Why were they doing what they were doing? I have a rough idea about then, but it would follow up with another why? What did they expect to get out of it? What was the end goal? It was too brief, and over too quickly for me to understand what was going on. And I don't think the characters really understood either, because they weren't told.

And then on top of that, there were several chapters that followed the reveal, where the survivors had survived, and they were just very samey. They're finally honest about what's going on with them, and they have the others say they're there for them and will support and help them however they can, basically. And it was just too earnest; it was really sickly sweet, and had a similar vibe as when books are quite preachy. There were several chapters of this once the antagonist was dealt with, of just these conversations, before it ended. Again, it slowed things right down, and you see you still have a fair few pages left, and are wondering what could possibly happen next, is there another twist? No, just the characters talking. I am not saying you can't have a thriller where the characters are dealing with other things. Of course not. I mean, it's integral to most thrillers, having the antagonist knowing the others' secrets. But it just didn't work here. They weren't woven into the story well enough, and started to feel like two separate stories being told at once. Honestly, I started to lose interest in what was going on with them, because it was so frustrating constantly being thrown out of the thriller.

There was a lot of representation in this book, though, that I really appreciated, and thought was done really well - though I am privileged in most cases, so can't comment on accuracy. Finn is trans and disabled, and uses crutches; Maddy is autistic and bisexual, and has chronic pain; Ever is non-binary; and Carter is bisexual. Nijkamp is non-binary, queer, autistic and disabled herself, so a lot of the rep is #OwnVoices. I also really liked how Even If We Break kind of battled stereotypes within the thriller narrative. Finn being disabled means he's slower than everyone else, and with her autism, Maddy has several panic attacks due to being overwhelmed on all fronts and struggling to cope with the situation. Easy pickings, right? Wrong. They weren't weak characters because of their disability or autism; they weren't a non-issue, but they didn't stop them. They still fought, they still tried to get out, and never at any point did the others leave them behind. I really loved it.

But I was pretty disappointed with the story overall, which is a shame, because I loved Nijkamp's This is Where it Ends and Before I Let Go. This one just didn't work for me, sadly.

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