Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Everything You Want Me to Be.
The first five-star novel of the year begins in Pine Valley, Minnesota, in 2008 and features the first-person voice of
17-year-old Hattie Hoffman. The frustration of Hattie’s love for teacher Peter Lund is juxtaposed with the rest of Mejia’s cast of characters
as they swarm under their neuroses and the circumstances that will bring them to
the brink of tragedy. Shepherding in the most tragic elements of Shakespeare, Mejia sets her plot in motion when Hattie impulsively decides to run away from home the day before Easter. Hattie has spent hours in the Internet memorizing New York City, buoyed along by the desire that she wants to be an actress
on Broadway: “I wanted a life that was bigger than Pine Valley, a life that made everything different.”
Hattie loves her parents, Bud and Mona, but she continually plots her departure, outwardly courting
her boyfriend, local footballer Tommy Kinakis. Wise beyond her years, Hattie is
nonetheless too often blinded by her passions. On the eve of her 18th birthday, she finds herself drawn to Peter
Lund mainly for his love of literature and his position as an outsider. Mr. Lund is smart and funny and urban. To Hattie, he “looks as wrong in the cement brick building of Pine Valley School”.
His cultured attitude and his promises of literary discussion lead Hattie, for the first time, to be excited for what the year might bring.
Mejia’s novel is riveting, a real page-turner peppered with teenage sexual passion as well as the fragility of lives hijacked by bloody ambition and murder. Hattie and Peter’s narrative is set against the other major character in the story: Pine Valley’s Sheriff, Del Goodman, who discovers Hattie's
body laying face-up in a corner of an abandoned barn. Whittled down to “bone and gristle” after almost thirty years on the job, Del and his chief deputy, Jake, can’t quite believe that the girl is Hattie. She’s been drained pale and has a stab wound to the chest. Del recalls how Hattie’s father, Bud, came
into his office, telling him to file a missing person’s report on Hattie. Bud
figured that Hattie had taken off, yet Mona didn’t think for one second that Hattie would leave town before finishing up her lead role playing Lady Macbeth.
Girls don’t “get murdered for nothing,” not in Wabash County: “all that crazy city stuff a world away from us.” This is a place that is stuck on the idea that people still matter. As Del’s investigation gets underway, Tommy initially becomes the prime suspect.
The preliminary forensics report reveals that Hattie had indulged in aggressive but probably consensual sex just minutes before her death. Either Tommy isn’t telling the complete truth, or Hattie
went to meet a lover, an aggressive lover who might have done her in.
Peter, meanwhile, is suffocating in his marriage. He resents farm life and misses
city living. Lately his wife, Mary, has been truculent and uncommunicative, more interested in looking after her mother who is suffering
from Alzheimer’s. Peter is drawn to Hattie, and Hattie becomes increasingly voracious in her need for Peter. We
are unable to look away as Peter’s life begins to resemble a house of cards
built on guilt and obsession and need: “I craved her I was obsessed with her and I feared her more every day.” Mejia delicately unfolds their relationship as Hattie
falls in love with this “ghost of a man.” She’s convinced that Peter can give her exactly what she wants and show her everything. He can make them both forget this town and themselves and every terrible decision that
brought them to this place and time.
Pine Valley’s gorgeous landscapes--farmland stretching to the horizon, gentle hills, and empty fields shedding the last of their snow--provide a deceptively bucolic backdrop to this dark tale of murder. There’s a furtive sense of menace, perpetuated by Hattie’s best friend, Portia, who tells Del she’s convinced that the “curse of Macbeth” killed Hattie.
The curse story is spreading like wildfire, and Dell has this vision of Hattie wearing her bloodstained dress and her crown, looking so haunted and ghost-like.
Guiding us though the morality of one man and one girl’s impetuous actions,
Mejia portrays Hattie not as an innocent, shrinking victim but as a confident arch-manipulator who pays a terrible price as her carefully constructed world spins out of control around her.