The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis Book Review

I should’ve caved to my gut and tried out Mindy McGinnis’ works long ago.

This time, McGinnis’ work is based off of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Cask of Amontillado, which I’d never heard about in my life before, and McGinnis kind-of kind-of-not-so secretly puts Amontillado as the name for this grungy American town. Like Ashley Hawkins, the protagonist of one of her more recent works, Be Not Far From Me, one of the two heroes of this story, Tress Montor, has a life where she can barely afford the necessities to get by and has people at her school pitying her and offering her charity so her stench doesn’t overpower the room. She used to have a great life with her parents, until a few years ago, when they disappeared when driving her best friend Felicity Turnado home from her house; a disappearance that has remained unsolved and Felicity being the only one found. And the two of them were already having some serious issues with each other (not the usual kind involving boy jealousy, I assure you. McGinnis is smart enough to stay away from that overdone trope) but this cements them as finito.

Ever since that day, Tress has been living with her grandfather Cecil who she doesn’t refer to as a grandfather because she doesn’t have that affection, working in his shoddy Animal Attractions zoo where she shovels animal shit and is willing to get down and dirty with some rather dangerous creatures. She also has to deal drugs to help out with spare expenses. Can’t really shower or buy things for herself either. Felicity on the other hand has been doing more than fine but she can’t overcome how bad she feels for her former best friend. And one day, there’s a party thrown at a swanky house where the music’s blasted and the booze is practically neverending. And Tress has a suicidal plan in mind for how she’s going to use that party and house to wrestle the truth out of Felicity; what happened that night, when she was the last person to see her parents?

I’ve only read two other books from Mindy McGinnis; first one I tried I really disliked, the second was pretty good, and this one’s my favourite so far. Despite being based off a story from 1846, this is a refreshingly original book, especially in the rarely touched genre of wondering if the main character deserves a good or bad ending. Tress is a troubled but deeply sad character who endures calamities that aren’t her fault and yet you often can’t help but feel the plan she orchestrates is abnormally inhumane and sadistic. And on the other hand…is it really? McGinnis does a great job of making us both pity and fear her so we don’t know what we exactly want to happen and are nervous about the final outcome because this does not have the sense of having a joyful resolution.

About half of this book involves flashbacks, something I don’t always enjoy in stories. But they fit with the story perfectly here, starting us off on a high note and then explaining how everything built to this point while maintaining the pace of the horrors happening now. Felicity’s point of view is almost as fascinating as Tress’s because we can tell she’s a lucky but rather innocent girl, an exemplary figure for a lot of teenage girls who want to do right by those with less than them and feeling lousy when the way they think they know how to do that doesn’t work anymore. Tress and Felicity are the bad guys to one another in this book, and we think at first Felicity is the one to blame but we soon find the circumstance is the real one to blame. There’s also the point of view of someone named Cat, who has strange quick thoughts as chapters. We wonder; who is this Cat? Is she the one behind all this? No one else mentions her in the book. You’ll just have to read and see.

One criticism is it drags a bit as it nears its climax, but it barely matters. There’s a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait to resolve it in The Last Laugh. This is definitely a duology I’m excited to complete.

If you like this, I’d try Everyone We’ve Been by Sarah Everett

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