Today I share my thoughts on Never Have I Ever, the latest psychological thriller from L.V. Hay. My thanks to publisher Hodder & Stoughton who provided a copy of the book for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Twenty years agoAvailable from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books
Four teenagers discover a new game.
They add their own rules, going from sharing secrets to sharing firsts.
And then it all goes spiraling out of control.
A woman gets a note through her door which chills her blood
‘Never have I ever been punished for what I have done’
She thought this was over. But it looks like it’s her turn to play
Because no matter how far it goes, you have to obey the rules of the game. And the game is never really over.
Well this is an interesting read. With an unreliable narrator and the knowledge that something happened in her past, if not the exact what, author LV Hay keeps readers guessing to the very end as to just what may have happened in protagonist, Samantha’s, misspent youth. I don’t think anyone is a stranger to the concept of the ‘Never Have I Ever’ game, although I don’t recall ever having played it. This time around though Sam and her school friends ramp it up into a kind of jeopardy laden truth or dare, a game that will have lasting repercussions for all of them.
Sam isn’t necessarily the easiest to like protagonist . I found her prickly and evasive, even with people she was supposed to love. The more time I spent with her, the more her actions started to come into question, and the less I trusted what she had to say. That said, it was clear from the outset that she had some form of stalker, a Number 1 fan who was unnaturally drawn to her and seemingly very obsessive. But how far does that obsession extend and how does it feed into the main narrative.
The story has two distinct threads – the present day in which Sam, now an author, receives a series of increasingly strange and eventually threatening letters – and her last summer in her home town in North Devon before her family packed up and moved to London. The past comes as a series of memories, ones that Sam has put to the back of her mind and which are slowly recalled throughout the course of the novel. We learn more about Sam as each memory resurfaces, but nothing to the extent that would explain how her life it being slowly undermined and destroyed in the present.
Sam’s past is dominated by her friendship with Aimee, Ruby and Maddy. Far from being close knit, you get the sense of the toxic nature of this particular foursome, driven by an large by Aimee, a girl used to getting her own way. She challenges and unsettles the other girls, driving them to act in ways they would ordinarily not have dreamed of. It is interesting to see how the author has explored this group dynamic and made it play out on the page, and I recognised the dark side of female friendships that lurks behind the gloss and the solidarity that others may see. The author has a real knack for exploring human nature and portraying the atypical in her works, and it is never more apparent that we see here.
There is a lot of tension in the story, a clear underlying threat, but perhaps because I didn’t warm to Sam, I perhaps didn’t feel as on edge as I might have liked. It’s not that what was happening to her was acceptable, but there was much about her character that was completely objectionable, particularly the way she treated her husband, that made it hard to be too upset about how her life was unfolding and made me wonder if it wasn;t just a little bit deserved. It is clear from the interactions she has with former friends, from the memories she recounts, that she is far from perfect. But does that not just make her human?
The ending was surprising, the ultimate reveal perhaps not entirely unexpected. There are many ides thrown around as to who could be targeting Sam, some are discounted, others serve to make Sam look paranoid and unstable, not that she needs much help in that quarter. Overall it was a well paced and intriguing novel, but as much for its examination of peer pressure and the impact of badly made decisions as a teenager as for the question of who might be targeting Sam and why.
About the Author
Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is the producer of two Brit Thrillers, DEVIATION (2012) and ASSASSIN (2015), as well as the script editor and advisor on numerous other features and shorts. Lucy’s the author of WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS for Kamera Books’ “Creative Essentials” range, as well as its follow ups on DRAMA SCREENPLAYS and DIVERSE CHARACTERS for fiction as well as screenwriting. Her debut crime novel, THE OTHER TWIN, is now out with Orenda Books and has been featured in The Sun and Sunday Express Newspapers, plus Heatworld and Closer Magazine.