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“There are pieces of this story I don’t want to be true, and truths I don’t think I’ll ever understand. I don’t want to talk about those. It makes my throat close up and my eyes sting just thinking about it. And I’ve never been a good liar. Not compared to you,” Kayla. —Nobody Knows but You
Nobody Knows but You
by Anica Mrose Rissi
Kayla Martin has always been a bit of an outcast. That is until she meets Lainie at an eight-week-long summer camp. The two girls instantly become inseparable. Lainie is fun, charming, larger than life, and able to bring out a side of Kayla that she never knew she had. However, it isn’t long before another camper enters the picture.
Nerdy but confident, established playboy Jackson immediately grabs the interest of Kayla’s newfound best friend. The two begin a passionate, hot, and cold relationship. Though Kayla is less than thrilled about the effect Jackson is having on Lainie—and about becoming the third wheel—she remains fiercely loyal and hopes Lainie will come to her senses by the summer’s end.
But the summer ends with Jackson’s corpse being discovered in the lake. Foul play is suspected, and Lainie quickly becomes the prime suspect. As her friend awaits trial, Kayla grapples with the murder and the events leading up to it. Everyone else seems so sure of the truth, but she knows there’s often more to a story than meets the eye.
Nobody Knows but You is largely told from letters Kayla writes, but never sends, to Lainie. These letters describe her memories of that fateful summer as well as the aftermath. Kayla’s perspective, especially in the format it’s presented, is very unreliable. Early on she states, “even now, I am keeping [Lainie’s] secrets. Everyone that I can.” It becomes clear Kayla has a very biased outlook on the situation, and the reader is not necessarily meant to agree with how she perceives the events.
In order to give more perspective, the reader also gets glimpses of Kayla’s text exchanges with various characters. Kayla’s contributions to these exchanges tend to be very short and vague while the other person provides more substance, which shows that our narrator doesn’t reveal all that she knows. In addition, the narrative sometimes shifts to news articles and fellow campers’ transcribed statements. The articles and statements give the reader outside perspectives that highlight Kayla’s bias. The perspectives provided give the reader a very intimate (Kayla’s letters), semi-removed (camper’s statements), and outside (articles) look at the situation.
The story emphasizes the idea that strong connections and a deep sense of community are formed at camp. An unnamed camper muses, “I have friends I was tight with only the last ten days of camp and I know them better than people I’ve been friends with all of high school. You kind of have to experience it to know about it, but it’s true.” Teenagers who have been avid attendees of summer camp will likely be able to relate to this sentiment and understand why Kayla holds her bond with Lainie in such high regard. However, Kayla and most of the other characters are unlikable. This seems to have been the author’s intent, but it might make it difficult for some readers to get invested in the story.
Nobody Knows but You suffers from underdeveloped characters, particularly in the case of Kayla herself. Another negative aspect of the story is that the letter-writing format makes it difficult to gauge who she is outside of her relationship with Lainie. Furthermore, the final twist will be predictable for seasoned YA readers. However, this is a short and fast-paced read that is intriguing. While not a must-read, it is a gripping story that even the reluctant reader will be drawn into.
- Lainie and Jackson are often portrayed kissing and struggling to keep their hands off each other. A camper says, “you’d see them laughing and cuddling, or practically tearing each other’s clothes off in public.” The sexual nature of their relationship is heavily alluded to, and near the end of the story, Kayla states in one of her letters to Lainie that a scene flashed before her eyes of “letting [Jackson] kiss you. Kissing him back and running your hands under his t-shirt to feel his warm skin. Letting him unzip your hoodie and push it off your arms … leading him down the path toward the dock, where you can continue what you started, and more.”
- Jackson, who is sixteen, hooked up with fellow camper Emma, who is only thirteen. A camper says regarding a statement Emma made, “sucking face with a notorious fuckboy doesn’t show you the depths of his soul.”
- Kayla describes passionately kissing a boy named Ian at a Halloween party in one of her letters to Lainie. She says she knew she and Jackson gave each other scratches, and that some were “featherlight, and others harder, like the ones I gave Ian at the party tonight, experimenting.”
- One camper states that they heard a rumor that “Lainie, Kayla, Nitin, and Jackson had a four-way orgy on the dock one night.”
- Kayla recalls a late-night swim with Lainie, Jackson, and Nitin in which they all removed the majority of their clothes. She states that “only Jackson stripped completely – and only once he was underwater, thank goodness.”
- Lainie tells Kayla that she went out with a girl in her school and that the two of them “hooked up at the Valentine’s dance.”
- Kayla and Lainie kiss twice. Kayla says, “your lips were soft on mine, but what I felt was my insides plummeting.”
- Jackson was murdered. He was bludgeoned in the head. He is hit twice, the first knocks him unconscious and the second “[breaks] the skin – a small gash, but still bleeding.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Kayla and Lainie sneak out at night, Lainie offers her “contraband.” Kayla assumes she is referring to cigarettes or other drugs, but it turns out to just be gum.
- Kayla describes a Halloween party where she unknowingly drinks spiked punch and becomes drunk.
- Lainie jokes about the camp chef having Scooby Snacks in the kitchen. Kayla realizes she is referring to a drug, “though exactly what kind of drug, [Lainie] didn’t seem to know for sure.” She later concludes that it’s either Valium, pot, mushrooms, or club drugs.
- “Fuck” is said multiple times.
- “Motherfucking” and “fuckboy” are both used on one occasion.
- Kayla is pretty certain she does not believe in an afterlife but considers the possibility. As Kayla muses over her dislike for Jackson, she says, “I hope it’s fine. I don’t need [Jackson] to rot in hell for eternity.”
by Erin Cosgrove