If you’ve been reading much Young Adult fiction lately, you’ll be familiar with love triangles. You might even be sick of them. But “The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove”, a standalone contemporary novel by “Fallen” series author Lauren Kate, deals with that problem in an unusual way – the secondary love interest, green-eyed Justin, is dead. Not zombie-dead or vampire-dead. In-the-ground, exit-stage-left dead. This doesn’t stop him haunting every corner of the book, completely outshining Natalie’s own boyfriend Mike.
Natalie Hargrove is Lauren Kate’s smartest and darkest protagonist yet. A small town Southern girl born on the wrong side of the tracks, in the wrong trailer park, she’s spent years plotting her way into the richer side of town. She’s gained a hot, rich boyfriend and a place at the top of elite Palmetto high school’s social ladder. Then she accidentally kills Justin, the gorgeous green-eyed reminder of all her past mistakes. Now her relationship, her social status, and her carefully-crafted life depends on making sure the police don’t find out she’s behind it.
The American high school culture is fairly extreme compared to British schools, but easy enough to adapt into if you’ve seen enough American movies. I wasn’t a huge fan of the plot – it gets off to a quiet start, setting up the stakes well, but the climatic scene felt awkward and unnatural. I’m also getting really tired of conveniently physic friends.
Where this book really shines is as an example of a strong character ‘voice’. Natalie is my favourite of Kate’s characters so far, way above Lucinda Price from Fallen. The first person writing lets you know the reasons behind her occasionally cruel actions, and little details are picked up that only she would pick up: first their fashion sense, then the state of their hair and how it could be improved, then their eyes and make-up or accessories. Lauren’s also good at using her environment to bring out character details – check out how she blends a bit of family back story with a description of Mike’s mother:
“from the seamless skin around Diana’s eyes when she smiled […] it was obvious someone had discovered the perks of having a son with an endless supply of botox.”
Oh, and that cover? Not bad at all, fits perfectly with Lauren Kate’s other books and does a great job working in the main character’s fondness for the colour purple. A huge improvement on the original American cover. The new American cover is better, but I think the UK one fits with “Fallen” and “Torment” much more smoothly.
“Betrayal” is a short read, but definitely worth picking up if you enjoyed Lauren Kate’s other books “Fallen” or “Torment”, or the portrayals of popularity in books like Lauren Oliver’s “Before I Fall” and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Invisible Monsters”.
Disclaimer: The copy used in this review was won in a competition run by Random House.