Author: Scott Bergstrom
Publishing Date: February 7, 2017
Publisher: Feiwell & Friends
Let me premise this entire review by saying this: I am reviewing the book that I read, not the man who wrote it.
I say this because as I’ve read other people’s reviews, most have automatically gone to good reads and have marked his book with a poor review without having even read it solely because they were upset and angry with things that he had said and done as an author that could be construed as rude and arrogant. I cannot speak to or for the man, but I can speak about his book, which is what I’m going to do. That being said, let’s begin.
WOW. I genuinely enjoyed this novel, and was pleasantly surprised. If you enjoyed the movie Taken (not Taken II, because we all know the sequel sucked,) then this book is for you! Gwendolyn Bloom, 17-year-old stuck in her shell as a “diplobrat” who has moved more times than I can count is stuck in your run-of-the-mill rich-kid societal school where she’s bullied because her daddy isn’t rich enough, and she lives in her head. Don’t get me wrong, if I didn’t know Gwen, and all I saw was that she often responded to her teacher’s questions about “benign indifference” in French, I’d think she was some arrogant show-off, too. In reality, however, that’s not the case.
When Gwen’s dad is kidnapped her world shatters. She’s faced with information she never anticipated that rocks her world. In a rush to save him since the government isn’t doing it’s job, she leaves behind a short-lived romance with someone whom she’s quickly and unrealistically fallen in love with as he becomes her only tie back to the world she’s left behind. It’s a race against time as Gwendolyn has to become as cruel as the people who have taken her dad.
We start the book off with a quote from George Orwell that really sets a unique tone:
“Part of the reason for the ugliness of adults in a child’s eyes, is that the child is usually looking upwards, and few faces are at their best when seen from below.”
Gwendolyn Bloom’s mom died when she was seven leaving her in the hands of her step-dad, seeing as she never knew her biological father. She has a close connection with her dad, and wouldn’t think of him as anything less. At one point she’s called into the principle’s office, and she corrects the principle who calls him her “step-father” and instructs her to just call him her father. We see early on that Gwen has a brave side to her, a side with tenacity, but it’s often beaten into submission. She has an innate sense of justice, too, one that she tries to see through even from the very beginning.
Gwen is an intellectual ruled by a mind that never stops. If it did she might be faced to confront the ugly past of her mother’s death, a past she was present for and remembers all too well. A sloppy gymnast for hobby, Gwen is raw power. Between her books and the balance beam she walks on, Gwen always finds an escape. She craves stability and normalcy, but what would a diplobrat know about that?
In the novel we meet several other characters, but we really only briefly get to know a few of them. We spend time with Gwendolyn’s neighbor, Bela, an ex-Musad agent who made a promise to her father never to feed her the lies of the government. He made good on his word, to say the least. We also spend time with Gwen’s long-lost aunt on her mother’s side. I’d like to say that I really appreciate the fact that Scott painted the Judeo-Christian woman as kind, and genuine, rather than cruel and twisted. Typically religious folks always end up being painted as nuts in the novels, and Lili was genuine through and through. She was a much needed support in the initial time that Gwen’s dad went missing.
One of the things that I loved most about this novel was that it was so true to it’s title… Cruel. It was genuine, hard-core, well written, and well researched. Over time I get sick of the traditional sugar-coated, watered down YA novels that are fed to us. The Cruelty was far from that. Fast paced, and extremely realistic, I didn’t feel like Scott was spoon feeding me a story he was going to wrap up in an unrealistic pretty bow. In fact, I loved the ending, which for me is rare. The end of the story was concise, and didn’t leave a ton of loose ends. I felt satisfied in the end, and noticed Scott left just enough of an “open-ending” to make room for a second novel. It didn’t leave me craving book two right away. Some novels leave you with your mouse hovered over the pre-order button on Amazon for the next book, but Scott didn’t do that to me. Like I said, I felt satisfied, but eager for the next book. Almost like after you finish a good meal, you’re full- not looking to eat more right away, but you’ll be ready when it’s time for dessert.
Another character we meet is Yael, a Musad agent covering as a dance, and krav maga teacher. Yael has a gentle spirit, but is a strict teacher. She doesn’t play games, and I love that she doesn’t coddle Gwendolyn. Often times when you get a YA you have these characters that are intended to support the protagonist and aid them in the shift between where they started and where they are going- character development. It isn’t uncommon that these supportive characters end up babying the protagonist, and being a shoulder to cry on. In some books that’s needed, but in this one it would have been an embarrassment. Scott portrayed his characters realistically, ugly at times even. I felt like he’d actually been to these other countries and had met these people because they were genuine. He wasn’t afraid to paint society for what it is- brutal, ugly, and cruel.
As a supporter of raising awareness on Human-trafficking I also appreciated his accuracy in the representation of that side of the world Gwen’s thrust into. It’s often times painted as glamorous and as a reprieve from being a run-of-the-mill whore, but Scott didn’t go that route. Again, unafraid to paint the ugly truth he was detailed and open about how things work and what happens to these girls. Though that wasn’t the focus of the story, or even a huge part of the plot, the fact that he didn’t neglect it, that he didn’t halfheartedly write that piece, I appreciate.
Overall I really enjoyed this novel. I rated in a 4 and a half stars because I felt like it was well-written, well-researched, and genuine to its title- cruel. From beginning to end I enjoyed this read, and though the first 30 or so pages were a bit slow, it picked up quickly. I never felt like I wanted to DNF this book, or put it down and take a break. Often times I had to tell myself to put it away because I needed to sleep, but I never did, because I needed to know what happened more. As I stated early on, if you were a fan of the movie Taken, or stories like that, then I definitely believe this book for you.
One of the things I have decided to start doing is rating books similarly to movies. This book, I would say, even as a YA novel is definitely a PG-13 based book. With heavy language, violence, death, human-trafficking, and prostitution, I don’t think this is something a twelve year old should read, or a thirteen year old for that matter, but if you’re open to that for your child, be prepared to explain and walk them through the emotions they will experience during this novel. Please be aware of this information when considering this book for yourself, a friend, or your child.
I hope you enjoyed my review, and if you’d like to discuss the book with me you’re welcome to comment below, or message me on any social media. If you’re unable to access those platforms feel free to email me!