The Smaller Evil

256p. ebook available. Dutton. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101994702.
RedReviewStarGr 9 Up—High school senior Arman Dukoff is in serious need of help. He hates his awkwardness, his social timidity, and how he feels trapped in his own head. When he meets Beau, who seems to see so much more potential within Arman, the protagonist jumps at the chance to follow him and his group. Once at the Compound, though, Arman is confronted by a confusing whirlwind of incomprehensible rituals and strangely technical jargon—but most confusing of all is Beau's sudden disappearance during the program. Arman is devastated not just because of Beau's insistent, optimistic belief in his potential but also due to a mysterious encounter they had right before he went missing. The teen is determined to find his friend and get answers—about Beau and himself. Young fans of the hairpin plot twists and turns of psychological thrillers will be drawn to Kuehn's latest offering. In particular, readers familiar with her previous titles will find echoes of similar themes at work here—a teenage male protagonist who is also an unreliable narrator. Kuehn's specialty in depicting mental illness and her sharp, quick writing are on display in her latest novel, but it is her satirical integration of New Age hippie rituals with the pseudoscientific jargon of the self-help retreat world that is the most compelling addition.
VERDICT Fans of the author's work will find familiar material in this book. Readers interested in a Gillian Flynn-style take on cults and self-help retreats will also be intrigued.

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