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Book Review: Tell Me What Really Happened by Chelsea Sedoti

Book Review: Tell Me What Really Happened by Chelsea Sedoti

As everything from A Good Girls Guide to Murder to One Of Us Is Lying has proven in recent years, a good YA mystery novel just cannot be beat. With suspicions high, secrets running rampant and, often, someone dead at the centre of it all, these fast-paced YA mystery thrillers are quick, exciting reads that draw you in and keep you guessing. With her new novel Tell Me What Really Happened, Chelsea Sedoti sets out to add her own unique twist on the sub-genre.

Told entirely through first-person police interviews, Tell Me What Really Happened offers readers a tense and compelling structure through which to tell her story and while this novel may not quite hit the same spot that some of its predecessors did, the quick pace, layered point of views and high stakes make for an intense and riveting mystery for police – and the readers – to solve as the story unfolds.

There are stories about Salvation Creek, the dense forest around it and the number of disappearances that take place there, but when five teens arrive there one afternoon ready for a night of bonfires, camping and time away from their parents, they never suspected that one of them would be missing before the night was over. With the four remaining teens now under suspicion, each are questioned about what exactly happened that night on Salvation Creek, and everyone has a different story to tell.

As the search for their missing friend continues, Petra, Nolan, Abigail and John find themselves answering question after question at the police station in a bid to put the entire story together. But it quickly becomes clear that nearly everyone is keeping some secrets of their own. With the clock ticking and the life of their friend at stake, lies must be revealed, deceptions uncovered and, ultimately, the dark truth about what happened at Salvation Creek must come out.

Everyone knows the stories about the woods around Salvation Creek. All the girls who have disappeared there. Kinda makes you wonder, huh?”

This is undoubtedly a novel thats defined by its format. Just like Daisy Jones and the Six is known for its mockumentary format and Emma Lords Tweet Cute is built around its leading characters’ tweets, Tell Me What Really Happeneds key feature is the fact it unfolds as a series of police interviews with four persons of interest over the course of several hours in the aftermath of their friends disappearance. Its certainly a unique structure, and one that frames the story well too, introducing each of the four main characters and establishing their personalities with ease before layering their differing perspectives on top of each other. It really helps to add to the sense of unease running throughout the novel, with the reader left questioning every answer, wondering who would have reason to lie and why and who is likely to be telling the truth at any given moment.

It’s such an effective structure, in fact, that I wish wed seen a bit more of it, or played with the format in just a few different ways. This novel approaches every chapter with a new question, but the same question is asked to almost every character every time, and in chronological order too. It feels like there was an opportunity to play around with narrative, time and perspective that wasn’t necessarily taken here, and as a result the questions being asked to frame the narrative are almost inconsequential. For the most part, the police questions are only used to direct the characters’ spoken responses into a linear structure – something that also could’ve been done without that narrative framework in place – and after a while, this doesn’t really add much to the overall story either.

Even so, if the format is the initial draw, its the characters themselves who keep your attention. From over-achiever Petra and her conspiracy theorist stepbrother Nolan, to golden boy John and quiet Abigail, each characters’ perspective is shaped by their own experiences, calling into question the validity of their stories. Every single character shifts from likeable to unlikeable and back again over the course of the novel, and each voice is so distinct that you dont even need the name markers to know whos speaking. The way in which each characters’ version of events layer over each other to present a different interpretation, extra information or new motivation is wonderfully done and it’s very satisfying to see the pieces slowly come together as a whole throughout the novel too.

Despite the brilliant concept and engaging execution, this mystery novel is ultimately let down by a repetitive narrative and a rushed ending, especially as the nature of the storytelling means that any of the big reveals have to be shared in big info-dumps that disrupt the momentum. On the heel of all the intrigue that comes earlier, the ending and the final reveals also end up falling flat and, once you pass a certain point, lack any surprising twists too.

While seasoned YA mystery thriller readers may not discover anything new in this novel, if Holly Jacksons Five Survive or any of Karen M McManus’ books have whet your appetite for teens-meets-true crime with mysteries to solve, Tell Me What Really Happened is a quick and easy read with more than enough quirks and initial twists to capture your attention.


Tell Me What Really Happened is published by Sourcebooks Fire on 4 May 2023

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