Also by this author: The Problem with Forever, White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements, #1), From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash, #1), A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash, #2), The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash, #3)
on April 15th 2014
Pages: 384 •Goodreads
Samantha is a stranger in her own life. Until the night she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said Sam had it all - popularity, wealth, and a dream boyfriend.
Sam has resurfaced, but she has no recollection of who she was or what happened to her that night. As she tries to piece together her life from before, she realizes it's one she no longer wants any part of. The old Sam took "mean girl" to a whole new level, and it's clear she and Cassie were more like best enemies. Sam is pretty sure that losing her memories is like winning the lottery. She's getting a second chance at being a better daughter, sister, and friend, and she's falling hard for Carson Ortiz, a boy who has always looked out for her-even if the old Sam treated him like trash.
But Cassie is still missing, and the truth about what happened to her that night isn't just buried deep inside of Sam's memory - someone else knows, someone who wants to make sure Sam stays quiet. All Sam wants is the truth, and if she can unlock her clouded memories of that fateful night, she can finally move on. But what if not remembering is the only thing keeping Sam alive?
I could do nothing else while I read this book. I carried it with me in the car, to meals, to the gym, read it while waiting at the DMV, neglected getting enough sleep to continue it, and finally finished it less than 24 hours later. It was the epitome of a can’t-put-down-until-you-know-the-ending (semi) psychological thriller.
I’ll be honest- this was the first novel I’ve read by Arementrout that wasn’t part of her Lux series, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a completely different type of YA novel, a stand alone, and a different publisher (her Lux series is published by Entangled Teen while this novel is published by Disney Hyperion). I was a little hesitant going into Don’t Look Back because Armentrout has such a distinctive writing voice in the Lux series, and I was afraid that Sam would sound a lot like Katy. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, and while JLA’s narrative style was definitely still apparent (there were some catchphrases I recognized, and she’s always great at writing swoon-worthy romantic leads) her characters were all very different to me, and the story kept me engaged throughout.
I think what I loved most about this novel is that there were so many characters and I feel like they were all fleshed out enough not only to be interesting but to be possible suspects. There’s the main character Sam, who’s fascinating because she goes from antagonist to protagonist- she’s simultaneously the character you’ll both cheer for (because of her present) and secretly want to fail (because of her past). It’s refreshing to have a YA protagonist who’s not the avaerage, mild-mannered, unassuming sweet brown haired girl. Sam was cold and cruel, and after losing her memory she has to deal with the repercussions of her choices of being a former mean girl. I loved that her character was so flawed. Her old-money family has a plethora of problems, and her mother, father, and twin brother all have interactions with her throughout the book. Every secondary character from her heinous (and I do mean heinous, because of those pictures- ugh, you’ll know what I’m referencing) boyfriend to her brother’s sweet yet working-class girlfriend is given adequate page time to make them feel relevant to the mystery, and thus to make you feel as though there’s many plausible characters with motives who could’ve potentially harmed Sam and Cassie.
One thing JLA knows how to do and do well is write a good love interest. I was immediately smitten with Carson, and I loved how he wasn’t the stereotypical “bad boy” but also exhibited traits such as a drive to go to college, a strong work ethic, and deep respect for his family. Not to mention he was sooooo swoon-worthy and the tension between him and Sam wasn’t forced, and there definitely isn’t insta-love (in my opinion anyway- yes Sam acknowledges his attractiveness right away after losing her memory and re-meeting him, but their relationship goes through a lot of repairing). I love how JLA really spends time developing the tension and interactions between her love interests (at least from what I’ve seen in the Lux series) and this book is no exception. Carson has definitely been added to my book-boyfriend list.
The plot of the novel itself is what got me hooked. As I’ve stated before, I love thrillers and this one left room for many suspects with many motives, seeing how awful Sam’s attitude was before her disappearance. It also had an element of being a psychological thriller as well as Sam’s amnesia and PTSD lead to occasional panic attacks and question her authenticity and reliability of a narrator at times (which reminded me somewhat of the Mara Dyer series). Along with the mystery regarding who assaulted Sam, there’s also the parallel mystery of what happened to Cassie, who’s still missing. Readers also struggle alongside Sam as she tries to decipher just how deep her seemingly toxic (if not a tad obsessive) relationship with Cassie ran, and what common denominator they shared that made them both targets for their joint disappearance.
As for the plot twist and reveal at the end, the culprit was someone I had briefly suspected at the beginning but had disregarded in favor of characters whom I thought were more heinous. Though once the culprit is revealed it the clues laid out seem more obvious, I really enjoyed JLA’s red herrings she placed throughout that really had me doubting the innocence of some other characters (even the ones I liked!) I did call some of the lesser plot revelations, as the story has multiple characters who have transgressions in the past that Sam can’t remember, and must re-live the trauma of finding out about them. As a thriller, this book kept me thoroughly entertained, with multiple viable suspects, and never hit a lull or drag for me.
Were there any issues with the story for me? Well, no book is perfect, but I found that the issues I had were so minor they didn’t really hinder my reading experience at all, and were more afterthoughts. I don’t have any sort of medical/psychological background so I can’t vouch for the validity of the type of amnesia Sam had (although a good friend psychology major of mine assured me that it does happen, though the victims rarely get their memories back in such a situation). I also found it a bit odd that she had shed most of her mean girl ways once she lost her memory, begging the question of whether attitude (and evil/cruelty) is a nature or nurture thing. The concept was fascinating though, rediscovering the narrator’s entire life alongside her and wondering for yourself what you would do at this point if you woke up with no memory of who you were, and to what extent that would give you a blank slate to start your life over.
Overall: Don’t Look Back gets 5/5 stars from me because it had a large and well-written cast of characters, a plot that I couldn’t put down, and a swoon-worthy romance, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jennifer L. Armentrout. Bonus points for her ability to write great, lengthy series as well as impressive stand alone novels, which are a bit of a rarity in YA. Jennifer L. Armentrout is an auto-buy, auto-read, and auto-enjoy author for me, and Don’t Look Back solidifies her position as a top YA author in my mind.
If you liked Don’t Look Back, you may also like:
Click here to read my review of Dangerous Girls.
Click here to read my review of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.