Review: This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston

January 16, 2017 Diversity 2, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Review: This Is Our Story by Ashley ElstonThis Is Our Story by Ashley Elston
Published by Disney-Hyperion on November 15, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
Five went in. Four came out.

No one knows what happened that morning at River Point. Five boys went hunting. Four came back. The boys won’t say who fired the shot that killed their friend; the evidence shows it could have been any one of them.

Kate Marino’s senior year internship at the district attorney’s office isn’t exactly glamorous—more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys’ case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.

Kate won’t let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has her own reasons for seeking justice for Grant. As investigates with Stone, the aging prosecutor relying on Kate to see and hear what he cannot, she realizes that nothing about the case—or the boys—is what it seems. Grant wasn’t who she thought he was, and neither is Stone’s prime suspect. As Kate gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all—and if Kate doesn’t uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line…including her own.

Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!

Racial-Ethnic: 1 (one minor black character)
Disability: 4 (Kate’s boss has macular degeneration and remains a top-notch attorney)
Intersectionality: 0

Sometimes, you’re sold on the cover moreso than the book’s description. That’s somewhat the case with This Is Our Story, where the choice to depart from the white font to put “his story” in a darker font got me thinking like an academic. Might the book focus on how in patriarchal societies, men’s versions of events often define everyone else’s as is often the case with our history books? After all, history is just “his story” smashed together into one word. I also happen to love YA mysteries. This Is Our Story managed to hit the spot pretty well.

Though I’m more of a journalism girl, Kate’s position as a photographer for her school yearbook and intern at the local district attorney’s office make her feel like a girl after my own heart. We both care about justice and getting the true story out of everything we see and hear. She can be very morally ambiguous at times; she originally neglects to tell her boss Mr. Stone and her mom (his secretary) about her semi-romantic connection to Grant, the murdered prep school boy, because she’s determined to find his killer.

Except that’s not the full story. Elston packs the story with plenty of twists you won’t see coming. As each new twist appears and drives the story forward, you sink deeper into this legal tangle and come to know each of the boys better. I even know if most of the book is plausible, especially everything Kate does for her internship (can high schoolers even intern at DA offices?), but I can’t bring myself to care. It’s too much fun to spoil with my usual skepticism!

Related tangent: I’ve been a fan of this show called Detective Conan (aka Case Closed) since I was a girl far too young to be watching it. That series lives for the Asshole Victim trope and you’ll get a healthy dose of the same trope in This Is Our Story. Without giving much away, Grant is a terrible human being and you’ll fully understand why one of his friends offed him.

Though the clues to the killer’s identity are much clearer in hindsight, it’s not easy to predict which of the four living River Point boys pulled the trigger. Readers can make a good guess, but they’re unlikely to be certain or feel what information is being kept from them is unreasonable. The show I cited above is often guilty of the latter, so I know that feeling well! Another welcome change of pace: there’s no life-threatening final confrontation with the killer! I’ve seen the alone-in-the-woods-or-school-with-the-killer type of conclusion enough for a while.

Of special note: Kate’s boss, Mr. Stone, is living with macular degeneration. Despite his worsening eyesight, he’s still excellent at his job with the help of Kate and various resources at his disposal. It’s really nice to see an older person with such a significant disability doing well for themselves. It’s like a gay kid meeting older gay people, in a way. You see that someone who struggled like you did made it through life and it gives you some hope.

However, I find it odd the novel is so extraordinarily white. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the population distribution of Mississippi and which areas are largely white vs. more evenly mixed, but given that roughly 37% of the state’s population is black, I’d expect more than a single black character. But for all I know, it’s set in an area that a census would show is whiter than a Starbucks line when the pumpkin spice latte comes back!

In relation to that, we get a thorough look at class tensions in Kate’s area as the (all white) River Point boys’ parents attempt to buy their way out of trouble, but there’s no real examination of gender or race. Again, this is a state that’s 37% black. It also has a long history of fighting the civil rights movement and only a single abortion clinic remains open in the entire state. Gender and race are huge issues in the state, but they’re completely ignored in This Is Our Story! Plus like the academic in me said at the beginning, “history” is “his story” smashed into one word. That demands gender be examined!

So no, This Is Our Story didn’t live up to my expectations of how it would approach gender. In general, though? This is a pretty good book and I have no regrets about pre-ordering it. Whether you’re looking for exactly what I was or you just want a YA legal thriller, you’re unlikely to go wrong by picking out This Is Our Story as your next read.


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