The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight
HarperCollins, May 2016
Available for pre-order: Hardcover, Audible, Audio CD, Kindle edition
High school junior Wylie has always had anxiety issues, but since her mother’s death four months earlier she is unable to even leave the house. Her father, a researcher in emotional intelligence, unsure of how to handle her problems, buries himself even further in his work. Cassie, her best friend for six years, has exhibited increasingly destructive behaviors, and due to an argument the previous month, they are no longer speaking to each other. Wylie is sinking further and further into isolation.
When Cassie goes missing, she breaks that isolation by texting Wylie with cryptic directions and demanding that Wylie team up with Cassie’s boyfriend, Jasper. Although Wylie dislikes and distrusts Jasper, and her friendship with Cassie has been seriously damaged, Wylie overcomes her anxiety, agoraphobia, and suspicion of Jasper in order to track Cassie down. From then on, their journey only gets stranger and stranger; over and over, it turns out that things are not exactly what they seem. The story races along so fast, and with so many twists, that readers will find it hard to keep up, and impossible to put down. In many ways, I was reminded of Gone Girl, although the context and storyline are very different.
I found the major characters to be implausible, however. Wylie is the first person narrator, and she describes herself believably as having an anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. Her attempts to cope with the combination of grief, anxiety, agoraphobia, and anger are the most solid, realistic, and overwhelming parts of the book. Her portrait is so well drawn that I couldn’t buy her ability to break through her anxiety and agoraphobia and put herself in an uncertain situation with an unfamiliar person she doesn’t know or trust in a short time. Central to the author’s concept for the book is that anxiety and emotional intelligence are closely tied together, but research on the topic shows that the exact opposite is true, and the actual story doesn’t really bear that out. While there are times when Wylie successfully reads someone’s emotions, there are many times when she doesn’t (in fact, many of the plot points depend on her misinterpretations). Jasper is practically a stereotype, he’s so predictable and two-dimensional. From the very beginning, Cassie does not seem like much of a friend– she’s an admitted liar, manipulative, and frequently expects Wylie to step in and “save ” her in difficult situations– and in this case, she also puts the two people who care most about her, Jasper and Wylie, in considerable danger. Wylie is not exactly a reliable narrator, and the events are so unlikely that I almost wonder if all of this is in her head.
Despite the implausibility of the characters and their motivations, and the questionable premise that anxiety is a result of emotional intelligence, if you decide to suspend your disbelief, you are in for a wild ride, and, given the adrenaline-inducing ending, should get prepared for another one.
Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.