Wild and Crooked
Bloomsbury USA Children’s
June 4, 2019
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About WILD AND CROOKED
In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence’s name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teenager. Forced to return to town, Kalyn must attend school under a pseudonym . . . or face the lingering anger of Samsboro’s citizens, who refuse to forget the crime.
Gus Peake has never had the luxury of redefining himself. A Samsboro native, he’s either known as the “disabled kid” because of his cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. Gus just wants to be known as himself.
When Gus meets Kalyn, her frankness is refreshing, and they form a deep friendship. Until their families’ pasts emerge. And when the accepted version of the truth is questioned, Kalyn and Gus are caught in the center of a national uproar. Can they break free from a legacy of inherited lies and chart their own paths forward?
I’m a huge fan of Leah Thomas, specifically the way she writes these deep, complex, unusual characters. I’m always drawn in and fascinated by the way she gets me to love people that at first I’m not sure if I can like.
Kalyn was tough for me. I tend to struggle with characters who use crude language or gratuitous swearing. Or in this case, both. And that was definitely a struggle for me. Lots of times I feel like authors use language like that to show that a character is a bad kid or is cool, and it gets redundant and feels lazy to me. Like, there are other ways to get that point across.
In this case, I felt like a lot of the word choices were really deliberate. They were meant to make us uncomfortable and remind us that Kalyn and Gus live in entirely different worlds, even though they’re in the same small town. It called sharp attention to the difference in the way her family and Gus’s family were treated by the town.
She also does learn that people will treat her differently when she acts differently. It’s a bit of a mixed message, because she feels like she’s not being true to herself when she acts all sugar and no spice. But it created an interesting moment when she stopped to realize that. It’s kind of one of those growing up moments, right? We want the world to be a place where we don’t get judged based on the way we dress or talk, but the truth is it doesn’t work that way most of the time. (Which doesn’t make it right.)
Anyway, WILD AND CROOKED gave me a lot to think about. I got invested in solving the mystery of what really happened to Gus’s dad and why. And I think the story really nailed it on the lesson that even when people use profanity and crude language, they still have the same value as anyone else. I want to pretend I didn’t need that reminder, but the truth is, I think I did.
If you like Leah Thomas books, you’ll find the same complex, great cast of characters and LGBT+ representation in WILD AND CROOKED. I think fans of LAST SEEN LEAVING by Caleb Roehrig may also enjoy this book for its murder-solving elements. The tone is different, but it has some of the same intensity.
Recommended for Ages 15 up.
Gus has Cerebral Palsy and struggles with finding the right word as well as some physical handicaps. Gus identifies as pansexual. Kalyn comes from a poor family and identifies as lesbian. Gus’s best friend believes he has no empathy resulting from a brain injury. Gus has two moms.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity and some crude language used often throughout the book.
Two girls kissing. References to sex. One character references memories of conversion therapy camp in which a priest made her look at pornographic images of a man and woman together.
A teenager shoots and kills someone. Another teen brutally attacks someone with no feelings of remorse.
Scenes include teens smoking cigarettes.
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