The Weight of Guilt
Genre: Young Adult, Crime Fiction, Murder, Suspense
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 2.24.2015
Though this book has a lot of characters in it, the story is mainly about three high school students: Megan, Charley, and John Hawk. Megan and Charley have been best friends for a long time, and John is new to their school and their small town. Even though John has a bit of a secret past, he's a good looking guy and, after Megan tries to get Charley to go out with him - with no luck - she sets her eyes on him for herself. One night at prom and everything changes. Megan is missing and then found dead. The cops have only one suspect - John - so it's up to Charley and John to figure out who really took Megan's young life.
I'm always completely honest in my reviews, and this one will be no different. I wanted to love this book - and I did - but it wasn't until after Megan disappeared that it really grabbed my interest. The first couple of chapters, to me, were kinda boring and dragging - and let me explain why. It seemed like every other YA book I've read - gorgeous girl meets good looking new guy who has a past o_O Sound familiar? She then dumps her on again-off again boyfriend so she can go with new guy to the prom (even though she had originally tried to set up her not-so-gorgeous best friend with him) and she doesn't really seem to give a flying flip that he doesn't want to go to the prom or who else she may be hurting. Yes, I found Megan pretty selfish and self-centered. And slutty. This is made even worse by the way she treats her father and step-mother when John arrives at her house before the prom. But then, after their talk in the car after prom, you find out a little bit more about her and her family, and you see that she really is kinda human after all, even though she has this hard, not-so-sweet candy exterior. Once she goes missing and you start seeing how upset Charley is - and the memories from the past that Charley shares with John - you get to like her a little bit more. Unfortunately, by the time I started liking her, she was already out of the story. But that happens. This IS a murder mystery ... which means someone has to die.
Once her body is found, things REALLY get good. As I mentioned, the cops have only one suspect, and they're willing to do anything (including lie to him about facts of the case) to get him to mess up or, even better, confess. The only problem is: he DIDN'T do it. John and Charley start investigating themselves - first, separately, then together. There's a lot of suspense and intense moments throughout the story, especially when they are dealing with the cops involved in the story. And Megan's parents. As they get closer and closer to finding out who the murderer is, things get more intense - and a little scary (not horror scary, but definitely had me biting my nails and hoping nothing happens to these two). I started figuring things out around the time that they did, but there was way more to the story than anyone ever expected and, in the end, John is considered a hero. Even though Megan's dead, there is a happy ending, and I liked the way everything was concluded.
I really liked Charley. I don't know, I guess I relate with the not-so-pretty, not-so-popular girls in these stories. They always seem more real than the "perfect" girls in these stories.
The character I disliked the most will probably shock any of you who have read this, but it was John's sister. Yes, I disliked her more than the person or people that harmed Megan. She is John's sister and, no matter what has happened in his past, she should have been there for him. Instead, she seemed to believe everyone but him and blame it all on him as well. Maybe she was just nervous and worried, but she handled everything all wrong. Her behavior and attitude only made things worse for John. (And her son was a tad annoying. She never seemed to do anything to settle him down or explain things to him.)
Favorite quote: "Fresh out of boyfriends today." Charley is a sarcastic one. And pretty witty, too. :)
About the book:
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley. Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal's daughter, Megan. Though he's reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date. The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing. Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
Charley Cotton, Megan's best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn't trust John because of his past. John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley's death, though - it's destroying his life. With Charley's help, he learns that others in Megan's life had a motive to keep her quiet. But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murder with everything to lose.
Riley's drunk, and it's my fault. Swaying near the blazing bonfire with a dozen other kids, she's guzzling beer from a red Solo cup. They laugh, jostle, and slop beer over themselves.
Damn! I should have been paying more attention to her. I should have kept better track of time. You idiot, John! I need to get her home and tuck her into bed - now - or we'll both be in deep crap. I step up behind her in the brilliant firelight. The heat feels good on my face and arms, but the smoke curls into my nostrils, and I cough. Someone must have piled wet logs on the blaze.
I touch Riley's shoulders. "We better go."
She whirls. "Where have you been?"
"Checking out Brian's weightlifting equipment. I forgot the time. Sorry."
Flames leap and crackle into the crisp night air, casting flickering shadows across Riley's face. Her eyes glitter like stars in the inferno. A few kids rotate, trying to keep all sides warm. Earlier, we roasted hot dogs, bratwurst, and marshmallows over the oak blaze.
"What time is it?" she asks, her words slurred a little.
"Midnight." I'd promised her folks I'd ave her home already. I don't need them yelling at me again. Or breaking us up. That thought jars me. I'd rather lose an arm and a leg than lose Riley. She's the only good thing in my life, except wrestling.
"They never come home before two or three," she says and gulps her beer.
"Let's throw that away. You've had enough to drink."
She smiles, her mouth crooked. "Look who's talking."
"I haven't had a sip." True statement. I never drink the night before a wrestling tournament. I dump Riley's beer but hang on to the cup - I don't litter. I also help little old ladies cross the street. "I can do without your folks pissed at me. They already don't trust me."
"Yes, they do." Riley grabs my free hand and squeezes.
After planting a kiss on her forehead, I say, "C'mon, pretty lady. Home we go." I guide her by the elbow away from the fire.
The party was a spring break bash at Brian Holdforf's parents' farm pond. Dense woods block out half the sky, and a breeze ripples the treetops. My arm around her waist, I guide Riley across the pasture to my car, which is parked by the farmhouse. A squatty barn and a tall silo loom close by. Brilliant stars and a huge moon light our way. Laughter drifts up from the pond, and the scent of pigs floats in the air.
Opening the car's passenger door, I toss Riley's cup in the back. Then I slip her into the seat and close the door. After I climb in, I close my door and poke the lock button to make sure we're secured. "Buckle up."
Rather than take Interstate 80, I drive a ribbon of country blacktop that twists through hilly farmland. I think I can drive the blacktop faster than the highway - hardly any traffic and less chance of the cops picking me up for speeding. I don't need another face-off with them.
"I'll bet my parents aren't home," Riley says after we've been on the road a minute or two. She leans over and kisses my cheek. "Let's park somewhere. This road's dark." Her hair smells of a wood smoke, her breath of stale beer.
I smile. I wouldn't mind parking for an hour or so and making out. "We need to get you home and into bed."
Wisps of fog curl in my headlights. I'm zooming downhill toward the Des Moines River, and the curtain of fog thickens quickly. I cut my speed from seventy to fifty, then to thirty. I don't want to be going too fast if a deer darts into the road. Fifteen...
The fog turns dense - a gray, billowing wall that reflects the glow of my headlights back into my eyes. I squint and dim the car lights. I swallow and slow the vehicle to a crawl: ten miles per hour. I glue my eyes to the yellow center line and guide the car's left fender along the line.
"Why are you slowing down?" Riley asks.
"Can't you see how soupy it is out there?"
I'm not sure when I cross the bridge over the river. The fog is too thick to see even the side rails. But when I head uphill, my grip on the wheel eases. I fill my lungs and exhale slowly. I've escaped the danger. The moment I can see ahead of me though - still going ten miles an hour - I spot headlights racing towards me. They blind me. I barley have time to swear.
This can't be!
Even Riley sees the headlights. She screams, and the next sound is the wail of my horn and the hideous grinding shriek of brakes as I try to swerve and evade the headlights.
About the author:
After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author. He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens. He has also published numerous short stories in Women's World magazine.
Jon and his wife, Colette, live in Iowa. They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing. He waits patiently for the next "big one" to strike.