When the Field Notes Book Group was considering what book to read next, one of the books I suggested was Quicksand, by Malin Persson Giolito, because (although I hadn’t read it yet myself), it looked like an intriguing book, the sort that could spark lively discussions (and there were enough copies available in the system that we could put them on hold for all the members of the group). However, a couple of people were vehemently opposed to choosing that book because of the subject matter, a school shooting, and we’re not going to read books that any members of the group are really opposed to reading.
Even though the group wasn’t going to read it, I was sufficiently interested in the subject matter and the reviews the book got (which were excellent), that I picked it up for myself (and read it before the book we ARE going to read for the book group, which probably makes me a bad group leader).
Don’t be turned off by the subject matter. If you like suspense-filled books, especially books that keep you wondering and turning the pages relentlessly, you owe it to yourself to give Quicksand a try.
The book is narrated by Maja (real name: Maria), who is, at the outset of the book and throughout it, on trial for her part in the mass shooting at her high school, at which her boyfriend, Sebastian, was the main shooter. As the book begins, we see (briefly) the immediate aftermath of the shooting, but it’s not graphic, and it sets up the questions that haunt us the rest of the book: what actually happened on that morning at school, and what, exactly, did Maja do before and during the shooting.
Maja is a fascinating character. She’s a teenager, and she has the typical teenager attitudes to some extent: she makes up nasty nicknames for different people she has to deal with (one of her lawyers is the Pancake, another person is the Perm, etc.), she looks at the system and the people she has to deal with with all the deep cynicism of a disaffected teen. At times, especially early in the book, she seems almost sociopathically emotionless, and her cold tone can be really off-putting, but ultimately she’s a real person, making all the mistakes and immature decisions a teenager would be likely to make in her position.
The narrative goes back and forth in time, one line following her trial’s progress and another line jumping back to explain what happened and how she got into this situation, setting up the other characters involved in the shooting as shooters and victims, but it’s never confusing. You always know when and where you are, and it’s easy to keep track of the timeline.
The book is set in Sweden, where the justice system is quite different from ours (a non-jury trial for murder? Really?), but again, don’t let that throw you, because Maja is in the same position we’re in, as an outsider experiencing the trial for the first time and wondering about the oddities of the structure.
One of the strengths of the book is the characters, not just Maja herself (though she’s quite a creation, doing things that make you want to yell at her and things that make you want to comfort her), but the people around her, especially Sebastian, Amanda (her best friend, whom she shot to death — I’m not giving anything away, because that’s set out in the first page or two), and Samir, her not-quite boyfriend who plays a critical role in all the events leading up to the shooting. Her parents, her grandfather, her younger sister, the attorneys on her team, all are subjected to Maja’s skeptical gaze and revealed through her (admittedly partial) experiences of them.
I couldn’t put the book down, as it rushed ahead to the revelation of what happened right before the shooting, what Maja did and didn’t do, and what happens at the trial. I wouldn’t DREAM of spoiling any of that for you. Take out the book and immerse yourself in it to find out for yourself. I will say, though, that the ending was satisfying and that the surprises that were dropped here and there weren’t the kind of twists-for-the-sake-of-having-twists you see in some other thrillers (I’m looking at YOU, Gone Girl), but things that made sense and felt right in the context of the story.
Yes, this is a book that turns on a school shooting, but it’s unique and well-written and wildly suspenseful, and if you have a taste for dark thrillers, you should definitely give it a try.