Chelsea Sedoti’s Tell Me What Really Happened is a fast-paced YA mystery told entirely through first-person police interviews of four teens over the course of a few hours. Read on for Doreen Sheridan’s review!
Maylee Hayes is the gorgeous center of her high school’s social world. Pretty and popular, she’s been best friends with Petra Whitfield since they were five years old. Petra isn’t quite as well-liked as Maylee—she’s admittedly on the bossy side—but is generally tolerated by their friend circle, including by Maylee’s latest boyfriend. John Massey Jr. is smart and handsome but has a shadow hanging over him from an accident that happened the previous year, right before he and Maylee started dating. Petra doesn’t care though, as long as he treats Maylee right.
When Maylee expresses a desire to go camping in the woods by Salvation Creek, it falls to Petra to organize everything. Petra is no fool: She knows the camping trip is really a way for Maylee and John to have some time alone together. So she invites her brother—or as he prefers to call himself, her stepbrother—to come along, too. Nolan Anderson doesn’t love the idea of camping, but he is obsessed with Bigfoot, and is certain this trip will give him a chance to try out some of his cool gear and maybe track down the legendary cryptid. They’re both surprised when Maylee brings along another guest: her old friend Abigail Buckley. The super-organized Petra just rolls with it, even as Nolan starts developing a crush on the newcomer.
Awkward teenage shenanigans give way to weirdness soon after the five make camp. Nolan swears his thermal imaging has spotted something strange in the woods, leading them all on a journey of creepy but not necessarily sinister discoveries. The atmosphere isn’t helped though by Maylee’s constant allusions to the true-crime shows and stories she loves. After drunken squabbling by the campfire later on turns into hurt feelings, the teens go to bed, only to wake and discover that Maylee is missing.
Chaos ensues as the remaining four, all with varying degrees of wilderness training, try to decide what to do. Despite the cooler heads’ best efforts, they wind up splitting up in their search. When they finally reconvene in a panic, Nolan tries to tell his sister and the others what he saw that makes him want to not only get out of there immediately but also call in the authorities:
Of course, she immediately freaks the fuck out, all, “Don’t. Don’t you dare start with that trash right now. I will kill you, I swear to God, Nolan, I will kill you.”
So I stop talking. What else am I gonna do?
Even now, probably at this exact moment, Petra’s still telling herself that Maylee is alive out there, taking shelter under a log or something. Saying she’ll be found soon enough. But yeah, it’s not gonna happen. Maylee is dead.
Yeah, I’m sure.
Despite her refusal to believe Nolan, Petra does cave in and allow them all to drive back to town to get help. Nolan immediately tells the authorities that a monster kidnapped and murdered Maylee. While the police are skeptical of Nolan’s claims, something in the teens’ wild stories gives the cops reason to separate and hold them, with the novel spooling out from their subsequent interview transcripts.
Chelsea Sedoti does an amazing job of keeping each character’s voice distinct and fresh as they share their versions of what happened the night Maylee disappeared. We slowly learn not only about the events that led up to the disappearance, but also about each teenager’s relationship with the missing girl, and their differing viewpoints on what truly occurred and what they should be doing next. Practical, search-and-rescue trained Petra chafes at being stuck in an interrogation room. Unlike her brother, she refuses to believe Maylee is dead, and wants to go back out to find her. She considers all this testimony a waste of time:
According to my dad, eyewitness testimony is the worst sort of evidence because people see what they want to see. They miss details and let their brains fill in the gaps. Eventually, it’s impossible to distinguish between real memories or invented ones.
The problem isn’t that witnesses lie to the police. It’s that they lie to themselves.
Anyway, I’m telling you crap you should’ve already learned during your career. But I would’ve also expected you to learn when to cut an interview short because a witness’s skills could be better used elsewhere.
To the surprise of no one who knows me, I really identify with Petra, but also see many of the other characters in people I know in real life. Which makes it feel that much more personal as the twists and betrayals of this compelling page-turner of a story unfold. Is Maylee dead? Is Bigfoot real? What really happened that night at Salvation Creek? Ms Sedoti answers all these questions with aplomb, while incorporating very contemporary issues of race, sexual identity, and ambition into her excellent new Young Adult thriller.
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