Goodreads Summary (Review Below) For Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead by Jenny Hollander:
It’s been nine years since Charlotte Colbert witnessed the horrific events the tabloids dubbed ‘Scarlet Christmas.’ That’s how she was named in the police reports – a witness, though Charlie knows she was far more than that. But thanks to a cocktail of therapy, work, and severed friendships, Charlie has finally moved on: she’s soon-to-be-married and the editor-in-chief of a major magazine. Even the press has finally stopped harassing her.
But Charlie shouldn’t have let her guard down. Suddenly, ‘Scarlet Christmas’ – named for the bloody scene paramedics stumbled across on Christmas Eve at the prestigious Carroll University – is being adapted for film, with Charlie’s classmate promising the public that, this time, they’ll get to find out what really happened. With everything at stake, Charlie must decide how far she’ll go to stop the past that haunts her from colliding with her shiny present.
I need to mention some things without defeating the purpose of making a list of five reasons. First, if Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead, is any indication? 2024 is going to be a blast. Second, I used almost a whole pack of small flag post-its for this book (see photo below). I could easily quote Jenny Hollander all damn day. Last, though, this is a list of five reasons; there are way more than five.
Reason #1- The All-Knowing Unreliable Narrator
Sounds like it doesn’t make sense, right? I get it. But it is one of the most vital parts of Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead. In Charlie (Charlotte), Jenny Hollander has created an unreliable narrator who knows she’s a few cards short of a card deck. She and her therapist call them “black holes.” So we know that what she does and doesn’t remember, and her work throughout the book to fill those black holes, could or could not be correct.
Sometimes, she thinks she’s filled a black hole, but we know better. It is genuinely brilliant. This adds to the tension and suspense throughout the novel, building until the gripping end. Charlie ran from these black holes for a long time and refused to work on them with her therapist, Noor. Jenny Hollander adds depth to Charlie’s character by doing this because Charlie knew why she did things (like taking the stairs up 25 floors rather than the elevator and working from day till night), but others had a different perspective. Charlie knew if she stopped, she would have to face past events, so she didn’t stop. Others saw it as type-A, ambitious behavior.
Later, when I told people that I worked a round-the-clockk internship while finishing up my master’s-watching taped lectures at nights, working on assignments until one or two in the morning, setting my alarm for six-they took it as evidence of my ambition. But they got the order wrong. I didn’t do it because I was ambitious. I was ambitious because I knew that if I stopped propelling myself forward, even for a moment, I would have to go back.
Reason #2- Trauma
A lot of thrillers deal with trauma. However, Jenny Hollander writes a more profound view, making it hit different. While Charlie is the focus of Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead, her trauma isn’t the only one explored. First, the effect on Charlie’s Family is thoroughly written. How they did and didn’t cope with the “Scarlet Christmas” events. Second, others were a part of that bloody Christmas Eve that, in its aftermath, all carried on in separate ways. Charlie shut everyone out. Some became as ambitious as she was (some made a career off it). Some never forget and push to set the record straight, while others absolutely don’t want things dragged to the surface.
Next, you have the effects on Charlie. I’ve mentioned before that there are some subjects I’m sensitive about. They aren’t triggers. I’m just really hard on the authors who include these subjects/themes in their work. Jenny Hollander does a brilliant job bringing anxiety and acute panic attacks to light through Charlie. And again, she doesn’t just talk about Charlie but how this affects those around her. How they react, whether they even know the panic attack is happening, is instrumental to the characters and the theme. This includes trauma bonding, which I’ve rarely seen mentioned, let alone gone in depth about in any fiction.
The panic attacks started in the run-up to the first anniversary. Five months after the graduation I hadn’t attended, three months after The Chronicle had upgraded me from intern to staffer. They were horrifying, blinding and suffocating, but I ignored them as best I could. I didn’t think they were related to what happened… I blamed my new, capital I- Important job… But the panic wouldn’t go away, cresting like waves during meetings, lunches, nights on deadline.
That is one quote that doesn’t spoil anything. It goes so much deeper than this, and Jenny Hollander deserves a lot of credit for it.
Reason #3- Timelines
There are two timelines in Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead. One is flashbacks to the lives the characters had and the events leading up to Christmas Eve. And then there is the current timeline and what is currently unfolding. Despite knowing death is coming on Christmas Eve and someone is a murderer, you get so attached to the flashback timeline. Each character is so well built through the dialogue, character dynamics, and the depiction of their personalities. Add that to the connections you make between how the characters were then versus how they are now, and you can’t help but become attached. You see them as young, bright, and hopeful 20-somethings, with all the drama that comes with it, and then you see the aftermath of what they went through.
This ratches up the suspense immensely, building up to when the whole dam of secrets breaks. It also makes you want to hold these characters tight and protect them.
Thank you to Minotaur Books for the advanced ARC of Jenny Hollander’s Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead. It releases on February 6, 2024.
Reason #4- Speaking Of The Dam Breaking
What a twisted road Jenny Hollander leads us through. The first half of Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead takes time to build up the characters, the story, and Charlie’s current life. Clues are dropped through her interactions and dialogue with other characters, and the suspense is built. It doesn’t slow anything down. Instead, the therapy sessions and Charlie’s growing desperation take your breath away. It is a race to match up the past with the present. However, without that time being taken, the story wouldn’t work, and we wouldn’t be invested.
However, there comes a point where that dam breaks, and everything starts pouring out. Going back and forth between timelines, you will want to beat Jenny Hollander by figuring it all out. You won’t. Every twist and turn makes sense, and you’ll smack yourself when you go back and think of where things pointed to the truth of it all. I will say that overall, I was trying but couldn’t put it all together.
Moreover, one reveal trounced in the “You didn’t see that coming” category. If there was an Olympic Event for thriller reveals? This one would take the gold medal. This one secret was a jaw-dropping moment that fit the plot, but I never ever saw it coming.
Reason #5- You Can’t Just Ignore/Cover Things Up
Wow. for a list, this is long. So, I’ll try to keep this short and spoiler-free. In both timelines, so many things are ignored. There are red flags for every character, pointing to them not being quite right. Once you think you know who the baddie is? Other character issues come to light, and you must rethink your theory. But the focus on how people turn blind eyes to what is going on under the surface, with even their best of friends?
Again, it just brings depth to the characters and to the story that you don’t always find. Whether it is because you are so in your own world that you aren’t aware of what is happening around you, or it is for your benefit to cover up unsavory deeds, whether you do it because you think you are protecting someone or just protecting yourself. Just don’t. It will come back to bite you and many others around you.
I don’t know that I have done Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead justice. Whether that is on the humanity side or the thriller side of it, but trust and believe Jenny Hollander has written a book you won’t forget.