Jennifer L. Armentrout is one of the few super popular YA authors I’d actually never read. Actually, I was a little scared (okay, a lot scared) to try her books, because I wasn’t sure if they would be my thing. Then Don’t Look Back showed up on my doorstep as part of the Summer of Chills marketing campaign. Even though I was doubly skeptical about liking it, since I also am not much of a mystery reader, I decided to give it a try, because why not right? Reading a few chapters won’t hurt me. Turns out, I had a whole lot of fun reading Don’t Look Back. Well, played Disney-Hyperion.
The reason I’m not generally much of a mystery reader is that they tend to be more plot-driven than character-driven. Mystery readers like the whodunit and the howdunit. There’s nothing wrong with being into that, but I happen not to be. Don’t Look Back is definitely character-driven. The plot was highly entertaining to me, but I’m a bit skeptical as to the resolution satisfying people in it for the mystery element, based on the fact that I cackled madly through the ending.
The hook of Don’t Look Back is pretty awesome though. Sam comes to as she’s walking all covered in cuts, and has no memory of anything before that. In the hospital, she’s introduced to parents she doesn’t know and asked about the whereabouts of her best friend, Cassie, who she doesn’t remember. Needless to say, amnesia under such circumstances is overwhelming.
The largest conflict of the book isn’t really the murder mystery so much as the conflict between who Sam was before and who she is now. Sam’s having to deal with the fact that the person she was isn’t someone that the her now would have liked. Sam treated people execrably. Everyone tells Sam that she’s acting more like she did as a child, and opinions are split on whether this is a good thing or not. The reader’s opinion will not be split though; amnesia is clearly the best thing to ever happen to Sam.
What made me such a fan of this book is how many typical YA tropes it not only side-steps but subtly face-punches. There’s a POC love interest (he’s latino), but he never speaks in Spanish. There is one use of “exotic” as a descriptor, but that’s the worst trespass. When one of Sam’s friends from before calls him Española, Sam calls the girl out for not calling him by his name and for being “freaking rude, like, on a disgusting level.” Though Sam used to be just like that girl, the new Sam is the kind of person who calls people out for bullying. She does something similar to defend a girl who one of her former friends called fat. I wanted to high five her constantly.
The other big difference is how slowly the romance progressed. There was definite chemistry, but Sam and Carson were actually fairly logical about jumping into anything. On some levels it was too easy, but I liked that they weren’t totally driven by hormones. When her ex-besties told Sam some rumors, Sam actually confronted him about them, rather than just judging him by slander which might not be true. Also, Carson refused to start anything until Sam dealt with her boyfriend from before the amnesia. She actually takes the time to see if she and Del could have anything, giving her past self a chance.
Throughout everything she’s dealing with, Sam is honest with Carson. She keeps him in the loop. It’s AMAZING. This basically never happens in fiction, with conflict driven by all the things people don’t tell one another. She trusts him enough to tell him she thinks she may be going crazy. She makes some mistakes and jumps to some conclusions, but she’s always up front about things, which I loved about her. Also, I thought it was awesome that she was determined to find the truth, even though she was afraid it would implicate her. The new Sam is such an honest and direct person. It was really refreshing.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The resolution of the mystery.
The Final Verdict:
Don’t Look Back was greatly entertaining and had enough suspense to keep me turning the pages, even if I didn’t love the resolution of the mystery. I’m definitely more curious to check out Armentrout’s other b