3 star, Uncategorized

Review: They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman

A thriller about two sisters vying for the top spot on their cross-country team–the only way out of their stifling small town. But their dreams are suddenly thrown into peril when a new girl threatens to take away everything they’ve worked for… until she disappears.

Stella and Ellie Steckler are only a year apart, but their different personalities make their relationship complicated. Stella is single-minded, driven, and keeps to herself. Cross-country running is her life, and she won’t let anything get in the way of being the best. Her sister Ellie is a talented runner too, but she also lets herself have fun. She has friends. She goes to parties. She has a life off the course.

The sisters do have one thing in common, though: the new girl, Mila Keene. Both Stecklers’ lives are upended when Mila comes to town. Mila was the top runner on her team back home and at first, Ellie and Stella view her as a threat. But soon Ellie can’t help but be drawn to her warm, charming personality. After her best friend moved away and her first boyfriend betrayed her, Ellie’s been looking for a friend. In a moment of weakness, she even shares her darkest secret with Mila. For her part, Stella finds herself noticing the ways she and Mila are similar. Mila is smart and strong–she’s someone Stella can finally connect with. As the two get closer, Stella becomes something she vowed she’d never be: distracted.

With regionals approaching and college scouts taking notice, the pressure is on. Each girl has their future on the line and they won’t let friendships get in their way. But then, suddenly, Mila goes out on a training run and never returns. No one knows what happened, but all eyes are on the Steckler sisters.

I love a good story about family, and They’ll Never Catch Us definitely hits this one home. With (mostly) alternating POV chapters between the two Steckler sisters, the groundwork of the story is laid out as we learn about their passion for cross country running and the infamous history of their town: murdered female runners all killed in the same fashion.

As the plot summary shows, someone new in town comes in and threatens the girls’ chances of impressing the scouts at their meets. And they must impress them, for a scholarship is their only way out of this town and its history still hanging over them occasionally like a rain cloud forming at any moment.

However, we don’t really get to the “exciting” part of the story for a LONG time, wherein we know said new girl disappears. In hindsight, I understand a lot of groundwork was needed to form the foundation of each sister’s personal relationship and interactions with Mila after her arrival. But this definitely made the mystery more slow going than I had expected, and set the pace to a slow start for the first third of the book at least.

What captured my interest more than the mystery in some ways was each individual sister. Stella and Ellie were so different from one another. It is very evident that Goodman crafted each girl’s voice specifically with their personality and motives in mind so that their individual POVs were distinctive.

One sister was definitely more likable initially than the other, but I found I liked the more difficult older sister, Stella, a lot. She wasn’t your typical protagonist who got along with most everybody, or at least had a strong core friend group. It was just her, her running, and sometimes her sister Ellie. She wasn’t unlikable for no reason, and I actually grew to sympathize a lot with her as I read more of her POVs and got inside of her head. The tremendous amount of learning on my part as the reader but also through Stella’s journey in this whole ordeal just made her real like a flawed human being we’d meet on our every day streets.

That’s not to say that Ellie didn’t have her flaws and personal growth arc going for her too. She definitely did as well, and the way her secrets and Stella’s secrets intertwined with Mila and her disappearance was well done. So if you’re looking for a story of realistic sisterhood (because let’s be honest, sisters fight sometimes and don’t necessarily get along always) and flawed characters who were dragged into a mystery where they might just be the primary suspects? This is your novel, I’m telling ya.

I did dock off a rating or two due to the slowness at the beginning, but also the bits of inconclusive or discrepant details in Mila’s disappearance case. I can’t say anything because no spoilers, obviously, but I wonder if Goodman could’ve added a detail or two somewhere to wrap up certain elements that felt unaddressed. I’m not against open-ended things, even in mysteries where most seem to all be neatly wrapped up in a bow, but there are just some things where you set up so much in the plot that it just feels good to know what happened there. So if you read it, let me know if you felt that too? Or maybe it’s just me.

Overall Recommendation:

They’ll Never Catch Us follows two sisters, who don’t always get along, as they unwittingly get dragged into a disappearance case where they might just be the only suspects the police are looking at. I loved the realistic interactions between Stella and Ellie, but also the distinct voices of each girl and their individual emotional growth/journey throughout this ordeal. Family focus is very strong in this book, and its deep exploration in the midst of a mystery was well written. The pacing was slow in the beginning because the mystery doesn’t really start until almost halfway through. But if you’re not just here to read a whodunnit story, this was a good balance between character-focused and plot-focused storytelling.


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