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REVIEW: Right Behind You by Gail Giles

Dear Ms. Giles,

031616636701mzzzzzzz.jpgWhile I’ve read many young adult novels since I rediscovered the genre a few years ago, I will be honest and say that I haven’t read many contemporaries told from the perspective of a teenage boy. I’m not sure why that is. It’s not like I purposely ignore young adult novels featuring male protagonists, but it sure seems like there’s fewer out there.

When Kip McFarland was nine years old, he set his seven-year-old neighbor on fire because he was jealous of the baseball glove the boy received for his birthday. Three days later the boy died and Kip was committed to a juvenile facility for the criminally insane, where he spends the next four years in rehabilitation. At the age of 14, Kip is released and moves with his father and stepmother to a new town, with a new name, to begin a new life. But the past is not so far behind and Kip, now known as Wade, has to reconcile his new perfect life with that of the child monster the media once portrayed him to be.

This is a very quick read but that in no way detracts from its power. Right Behind You is a story about rage and redemption, guilt and forgiveness, and finally, acceptance. Much of Kip’s self-hatred began when his mother died of breast cancer. His family lived out in the Alaskan countryside and because she chose to keep her illness a secret, the cancer had spread by the time Kip’s father realized she was sick and brought her to a doctor. While both parents hold some responsibility for what happened, Kip blames himself because he read her diary a few weeks before and learned she had cancer, but said nothing. But can you hold him responsible for that when he was just a child and didn’t know the consequences of that choice?

That is the heart of this book. Kip was just a child when he murdered his neighbor and it is something he’ll pay for during his entire life. But does that exonerate him from his crime? There are many people who don’t think so: the murdered boy’s parents remain enraged until the end of the book; his father’s house is burned down; his friends abandon him because they don’t want his stigma to rub off on them. At what age should a person be held responsible for their actions? 18? 16? 14? 9? There are no clear-cut answers here, but there is a lot of food for thought.

Despite his actions, Kip — then Wade — is a very sympathetic character. I felt his confused anger during his therapy sessions, and then his overwhelming guilt when he obtains a perfect life. I never expected that — after all, he did murder a little boy over a baseball glove — but seeing Kip in the juvenile facility, alongside other juvenile offenders who truly showed no remorse over the crimes they’d commited, showed that he had a chance at redemption. That he had made a mistake and that while he could never erase what he’d done, perhaps he deserved a chance to find peace.

What prevented this book from being an A read for me was the section set in Texas. I loved the parts set in the juvenile facility, and the middle section set in Indiana was very gripping, but last third simply felt weaker to me. Part of this might be because I felt Kip/Wade’s relationship with Sam was underdeveloped. Sam is another character whose past constantly haunts her, though not to the same extent as Kip/Wade’s, and I would have preferred more back and forth on those parallels. A solid B for me.

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in hardcover . No ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

19 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 15:20:16

    I liked your review. I’ve actually borrowed a copy of What Happened to Cass McBride from the library the other day, since J reviewed it a loooong time ago. I will see if my library has this one, too, thanks.

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  2. Bonnie Edwards
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 15:49:58

    For another excellent YA with a male lead, you might try Exit Point, by Laura Langston, a wonderfully fresh-voiced writer.

    It’s available at Amazon.

    Bonnie

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  3. jmc
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 16:02:22

    I liked Tucker Shaw’s Flavor of the Week. It’s a YA version of Cyrano de Bergerac, similar in some ways to Anthony Capella’s adult version, The Food of Love.

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  4. Sarah
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 16:20:51

    This sounds excellent! I’m taking a YA materials class for my master’s in library science program and I don’t remember seeing this book on the syllabus but I think I’ll have to bring it to the attention of my professor. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  5. Jia
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:27:13

    Keishon: This is the first Gail Giles I’ve ever read. I glanced at her backlist and I’m particularly interested in Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters.

    Bonnie & jmc: Thanks for the recs.

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  6. trisha
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 21:21:04

    Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters! Oh, you have to review that one! It’s my favorite of the three Giles books I’ve read.

    I agree that the weakest part of Right Behind You is the Texas portion. For me, I think it’s partly that it didn’t have a twist at the end like Cass McBride or Dead Girls so I was kinda disappointed. Still, Right Behind You is very easy to read. I thought I’d have a hard time getting into it because, hello, it’s about a boy who killed someone. But it was actually very readable. And unlike other YA protagonists, he’s got great parents.

    If you like Giles, you might also like Alex Flinn or A. M. Jenkins. Maybe Flinn’s Beastly, which is not Giles-like, but does have a strong romance. For Jenkins, I think Damage is brilliant, though some people may be put off the by the fact that it’s told in the second person. And, let’s see, recs for a first person male POV… The first book that comes to mind is the awesome, mindblowingly good Boy Toy by Barry Lyga. Also The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, How to Get Suspended and Influence People by Adam Selzer, Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Peak by Roland Smith, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Freak Show by James St. James… Okay, that’s a lot of recs. If I had to pick just one, I’d go with Boy Toy. But, yeah, there are more YA books told from a female POV than male POV.

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  7. Jia
    Jan 24, 2008 @ 10:29:07

    trisha: Thanks for the recommendations! I do have Thirteen Reasons Why somewhere around here, probably buried on my overflowing review shelf.

    ReplyReply

  8. g
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 12:28:13

    you sed he spend 4 years at the juvenile facilaty buy he went there when he was nine and he came out when he was 14 so thts 5 years lol

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  9. Lena R
    Feb 06, 2009 @ 14:22:48

    I absolutely loved this book, Just not the way it ended.
    I think the end should have had more to it. Is there going to be a sequel?

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  10. Randell
    Feb 22, 2009 @ 21:57:53

    I really like this book althrough it slowed down at points. The only thing that i was not catching on to way the way sam said, “i’m here im right behind you.” Was that a good or bad im right behind you. plz explain

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  11. RK
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 20:00:43

    i think the same about the last part. I really didnt catch on to it for a second i was getting confused. But its one of my favorite books. Im doing a project on it for my English 2 class right now. Haha.

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  12. mckenzie
    Mar 17, 2010 @ 11:03:49

    this book was a really good book is there a movie

    ReplyReply

  13. RK 5858
    May 15, 2010 @ 15:52:11

    i love this book i am feading it now and i sont really ike reading books but this one yes

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  14. krisie
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 06:57:50

    i just read this book for my summer reading assignment and i loved it. im not much of a reader but i read this book in a couple days. once i started reading i couldnt stop. its a great book. id recommend it to other people.

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  15. Julian Cooper
    Aug 11, 2010 @ 10:00:54

    sometimes the fit on my baseball glove is not very good :*,

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  16. Eryania Porter
    Sep 29, 2011 @ 08:14:31

    iii love the book so far!!!!!

    ReplyReply

  17. Colin
    Oct 02, 2011 @ 20:44:19

    is there a sequal?!?

    ReplyReply

  18. Brandon Harrison
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 09:14:47

    this is the best book i have ever read most likely because i don’t read but when i read this i had a different outlook on books and that there are good books out there

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  19. Judy Adkins
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 18:43:57

    I recently finished listening to the audio version of “What Happened to Cass McBride”? The story was good; but I was shocked at the language in the book, especially since it is geared to youth. I’m an adult, and I refuse to listen to books by authors who use such strong language. There are many notable authors who write interesting best sellers but do not use strong or profane language. If I were a teacher reviewing books to be read by my students, Gail Giles definitely would NOT be on my list of preferred authors.

    ReplyReply

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