Review: Cartwheel


By Jennifer du Bois
(Random House, Hardcover, 9780812995862, September 2013, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

One of those stories that is ripped right out the headlines, and yet you still find yourself eagerly turning pages even though the story is not new to you.

The Rest of It:

There has been a lot of praise for Cartwheel and after finishing the book, I can certainly see why.

Largely inspired by the Amanda Knox trial, Cartwheel follows the events leading up to the murder of Katy Kellers, a young American living with a host family in Buenos Aires. Her American roommate, Lily Hayes is accused of the crime. With no alibi to speak of, and what the crime investigator sees as questionable behavior in the form of a cartwheel, perfectly executed by Lily in the interrogation room, Lily is looking quite guilty even by those who know her.

Lily Hayes makes a very interesting character study. She is slightly off kilter in her thinking and no matter how dire her situation seems to be, she fails to see the severity of the situation. You cannot believe anything that she says and because of that, it’s impossible to know what is going on in her head. As she sits in prison, awaiting her trial, she appears to be a victim, but is she? When her parents and sister fly out to see her, what they see is what she WANTS them to see. A victim. A disheveled, dirty, largely misunderstood victim. But what about that cartwheel? A cartwheel? In the middle of an interrogation? With absolutely no regard to how that might look to anyone watching?

As a reader, we learn a lot about Lily, but I have to say that I never felt as if I really knew her. She’s as complex as she is frustrating. The investigation, headed-up by the lead prosecutor in the case, Eduardo Campos, is not always on the up-and-up either. He’s pretty sure that what he has in front of him is cut and dry, and yet… he continues to wonder about her motive. I enjoyed his take on what was going on, but by the end, I have to admit that I was still a bit confused over whether or not she was guilty of the crime. I think I know, but I can’t be sure.

Cartwheel is a page-turner. No lie. But what I didn’t expect is just how similar this fictional tale is to what really happened with Amanda Knox. Lily employs the use of a cartwheel, whereas Amanda Knox did yoga. There is a bar owner in both Knox’s case as well as Lily’s and the whole thing with finding DNA on the bra clasp appears in both stories. I think as a fictional work, DuBois could have taken us somewhere else with all of that, but I can’t say that knowing the real-life facts took anything away from the story.

Overall, it was a gripping read but not because there is a lot going on. More so, because as you read, you can’t help but review the facts and come to your own conclusion on what happened or could have happened. For that reason, you pay attention to every word on the page. It’s a book that I could easily fall back into even after reading other books in between. That’s saying quite a bit given my attention span at the time I read it.

In a nutshell, it’s a keeper.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

26 thoughts on “Review: Cartwheel”

  1. I added this to my “want to read” list, but as I read all the reviews, I’m wondering if I might be better served to just read a novel about the real Amanda Knox. I think the proximity to true crime is what is attracting me to the whole thing.

    1. If you like psychological dramas then you will enjoy reading this one. It’s not fast paced at all, but somehow, the writing  lures you in. Lily is a very complex character. You just don’t know what to think when she does the things that she does. 

  2. Ti, this book was such a disappointment for me. I found myself skimming ahead throughout my read of this book. The author just seemed to rewrite the Knox story and not really do much else.

    1. I really don’t know why she stayed so close to the Knox story. There are aspects of that story that could have been explored. Like maybe the book could have been told by Sebastien’s point of view. Would have given it a different feel. Lily was too much like Amanda and the details of the real case were all over the place in this telling. The bra, the DNA, the bar owner guy, etc. And Katy was a complete bore. I didn’t care what happened to her. LOL.


  3. Now I have to google Amanda Knox and find out what here story is. I know the name, but that’s all that is ringing a bell to me right now.

    I have been on the fence about this book, and am still not sure. I am glad you liked it!

  4. I was wondering what your thoughts about this would be…you always say it so well…didn’t you think this book was really wordy, too? Tons of words that I had to look up…hmmm…or was that just me…say it isn’t so!

    1. I was reading an article on the Knox case just this morning and there are even more similarities than the ones I mentioned. The thing with the toilet and the bloody knife and footprints, etc. I really wish du Bois would have made it a little more unique.


  5. So glad to hear that you liked this one. I have been unsure of this one because of its similarity to the Knox case, but I guess I should just get to it.

  6. I’m sure the Amanda Knox case is a good springboard for spin-offs, both for books and movies. This one sounds intriguing. Do you think a movie is in waiting?

    1. I believe Knox has a book out. I could see a made for TV thing about her happening, if it hasn’t already but not a film based on Cartwheel.

  7. I am torn on this one. I was glued to it, but really didn’t like any of the characters…more felt pity for all of them. Also the ending made me feel cheated, which was probably the point, since we will never really know the real story with Amanda Knox.

    Part of me also felt that it was a cheap gimmick. Sort of like when a big law case breaks in the news and a couple of months later there is an episode of Law & Order based on it….

    See? I be torn.

    1. I felt a little like that as well. I feel as if the story was unoriginal (obviously) and resembled the real case too much. But I liked the way she wrote the characters. I didn’t like them either, but I had fun trying to figure everyone out. In the end, I really don’t know what to think. It’s easier for me to think she did kill her so that is what I’ll go with.


  8. I just read through your review and all the comments now, because I had to finish writing my review first. I’ll have to go read Kathy’s and others’ now, too. I finished the book a few weeks ago (a month ago? longer?) but just never got my review written. I expected to like Cartwheel more than I did, so maybe for me it was a guess of expectations being too high.

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