A tad bit of fiction, some heavily embellished facts and boom, we have Jennifer DuBois’ novel, Cartwheel, which seems eerily similar to the Amanda Knox trial that captivated North America.

Cartwheel tells the story of Lily Hayes, a 21 year old American exchange student who is spending a semester abroad in Argentina.  Like most 21 year olds, particularly the white middle-class, New England types, Lily is in awe of herself.  Not only is she constantly amazed by everything she is witnessing in Buenos Aires, but she believes that she herself is the only person to witness the beauty, excitement and joy of a new city.  She’s up for anything, including drugs and sleeping with the eccentric next door neighbour, and she believes herself to be superior to her roommate, Katy; a beautiful goody two-shoes, who is the antithesis to everything that Lily aspires to be.  Which would in itself be fine, if Katy wasn’t found murdered in her room one day.

Suddenly, the spiteful emails, the mean voicemails and Lily’s general behaviour towards Katy doesn’t look juvenile…it looks deadly.  And suddenly, 21 year old Lily is being charged with Katy’s murder, though she’s almost too confident, or perhaps too ignorant, to know what that entails.

For a bit of perspective, Cartwheel draws a lot of parallels to the Amanda Knox trial, including the infamous cartwheel that supposedly occurred in the interrogation room.  The Amanda Knox trial began in 2009, when Knox was accused of murdering her roommate in Italy, and sentenced to 26 years in prison, until she was eventually acquitted.  Granted, I didn’t know much about this when it was actually occurring (I come from the land down under etc etc), but from what I gather, the media played a massive role in the trial, particularly when it came to drawing attention to Knox’s attractiveness, as well as her outwardly cold personality.

This was the main aspect that drew me to Cartwheel in the first place.  I was interested in how an author would create a storyline that was partially based on real events, while still successfully creating a murder mystery that came across as realistic and plausible.  In this regard, DuBois was partially successful.

Though it pains me to say it, the main problem with Cartwheel is that it isn’t written very well.  DuBois essentially had a good idea and foundation on which to build the story on, yet she fails to deliver in terms of her writing capabilities, character development and overall story arches.

While the overall premise of Cartwheel is entertaining, and there were moments in the novel when I just wanted to keep reading, overall it was a slow storyline that was filled with tiresome subplots that weren’t necessary.  The overwhelming one of these was the character of Sebastian.

DuBois has created the Sebastian character in what I can only assume is the novel equivalent of Knox’s boyfriend, as well as both a motive and an alibi for the crime.  And while in theory this makes sense, the reality is that Sebastian comes across as both a page-filler and a simple excuse to wind up the story.  While originally his character intrigued me, I quickly bored of him and felt that he provided little to no enhancement to the plot.


Furthermore, DuBois touches on other characters, particularly members of Lily’s family, only to half-heartedly create subplots to them that could easily have been explored and built upon.  Instead, we are shown glimpses of the pain and suffering that they themselves are feeling, yet we never get to delve deeper to see the greater impact that the murder trial is having on outsiders.

On the other hand though, I thought that DuBois successfully painted Lily Hayes for me in a way that was both frustrating and accurate.  She struck the exact tone of insolence and arrogance that most university students seem to have, particularly those who believe they are superior (whether that’s through their looks, their smarts, or in Lily’s case, their worldliness).  And though I wasn’t particularly pleased with the ending of Cartwheel, I also thought that it was fitting for Lily and the entire murder trial.

While I wouldn’t recommend not reading Cartwheel, I think that overall it wasn’t as entertaining or fulfilling a read that it had the potential to be.  I think anyone who was particularly interested in the Amanda Knox trial might find Cartwheel intriguing, but to most it will probably come across as another sub-standard murder mystery.

Have you read Cartwheel or anything by Jennifer DuBois?  Are you interested in the Knox trial?  Let me know!

cartwheel by jennifer dubois

Cartwheel – (image taken from http://www.adelaidreview.com.au)