*I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. In no way does this affect the content of this review. If you’d like to read my review policy, click here.*
When you set out for revenge, dig two graves
Growing up in the sleepy English seaside town of Brynston, the fearless five – Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane – were always inseparable. Living up to their nickname, they were the adventurous, rowdy kids who lived for ghost stories and exploring the nearby islands off the coast. But when Max’s beloved older sister Jessica is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.
Now years later, only Max and Ella are in touch; still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. Their lives are so intertwined Max’s dad even sponsors Ella’s training for the Commonwealth Games. But Ella is hiding things. Like why she hates going to Max’s house for Sunday dinner, and flinches whenever his family are near. Or the real reason she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level.
When underdog Corey is bullied, the fearless five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them. But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?
At around 20%, I knew I had a special book in my hands. Well actually, it was on my phone, but boy, do I want a physical copy to add to my bookshelves now. Overflowing with sharp, observational writing, complex relationships, perfectly judged Harry Potter references (always a plus point) and a healthy dose of wry black humour; I was about as in love with a book as anyone can hope to be.
At its core, this book is a classic thriller. Why is Ella so angry that she punches walls? What really happened to Max’s sister, Jessica? Why are the fearless five no longer the friends they once were? The plot revolves around these questions, and Skuse keeps you turning the pages by revealing the secrets layer by painstaking layer.
Speaking of the fearless five, one of the things I enjoyed the most about The Deviants was the characterisation. Each of the central characters is a complete individual, both within the confines of the book and in comparison to the types of protagonists you encounter across YA literature. Skuse has done a great job of creating diverse characters: the fearless five all come from a range of backgrounds and family lives and Corey has Cerebral Palsy. Class and disability are two areas that UKYA books still seem to shy away from and it was great to see Skuse exploring these themes in a realistic, non-patronising way. Ella is the epitome of a strong female character in the sense that she’s completely her own person, despite dealing with a devastating secret. Fearless, furious, deadpan and vulnerable, she’s instantly likeable and I spent the whole book rooting for her.
There’s no flashy structure or split perspective, instead each chapter ends with a question, the speaker of which remains a mystery until the very end. This clever yet simple device keeps the dark secrets beating at the very centre of the novel without the writing becoming over stylised. Free from jarring jumps between timelines and chapters defined by different perspectives, it was simply written and as a result, a completely refreshing reading experience.
The real-world references and pop culture jokes added a well-judged layer of reality to the story, which only served to strengthen my connection to the characters. This is a bold book and it takes a no holds-barred approach to tackling some big, scary topics. What makes The Deviants so special is that Skuse is brilliant at portraying the ripple effect of a singular event on a variety of people. She brings each and every character into the heart of the story and then demonstrates just how much one person can change many people’s lives. In most books, there is usually one character you can relate to, but in this one there are many.
I’ve not read any of C.J. Skuse’s other books, but I definitely will be reaching for her back catalogue now. If they’re even half as good as this one is, then I’ll be happy. An intense and absorbing tale of secrets, lies and revenge, The Deviants gripped me from the first page and didn’t let go until my heart was broken in the aftermath of a huge final twist. Undoubtedly one of my reads of the year.
- Author: C.J. Skuse
- Publication Date: 22nd September 2016
- Publisher: MIRA Ink
- Pages: 320
- Rating: 5/5
- In short: A devastating masterclass in YA thriller writing from an author at the top of her game.