“You Betcha”: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Believe you me, I was working this one down to the wire in order to get in my last review for August. I wanted something quick, a page-turner, a young adult novel with some bite and I found it, don’tcha know. Okay, enough of my crappy imitation of a Wisconsin accent, but this slightly sleep-deprived, mildly anxious review will have to do so hold onto your pants.

I was intrigued by No One Else Can Have You shortly after it came out for three reasons. A) I love possessive/creepy titles B) The cover has a hanging moose on it all sweater-like C) It sounded like a gruesome murder mystery. It is all that and more.

No One Else Can Have You immediately grabs your attention with the shocking murder of teenage Ruth Fried (Freed), who is found hanging in the middle of a cornfield trussed up like a scarecrow with her lips sewn shut. I knew by page two that this was my kind of book. What follows is an investigation into the social structure of small towns, the dance of grief, the true meaning of friendship, and the epic question of “Who done it?”

Our protagonist is Kippy Bushman, Ruth’s best friend, who is left with yet another loss in her life now that her best (and only) friend is gone. Not only does she feel out of place from the death, but everyone’s false misery adds to her feelings of distance and disbelief. Early on, the pretty damn inept police department pins the crime on Ruth’s boyfriend, Colt, but several people aren’t so sure that that’s what really happened. To find out who really killed her best friend, Kippy has to put on her utility belt, emulate Diane Sawyer, and ask the hard questions that the too polite town of Friendship, Wisconsin is afraid to ask.

First of all, it is so refreshing to read a book set in Wisconsin. I’ve read tons of books from the West and East coast, plenty from the Heartland, and quite a few from the South, but rarely do I get to hear about the Midwest. In this way, it reminded me a little bit of Fargo because it is a dark, horrific story set in one of the friendliest and most bizarre places of our country. The dialogue does a superb job of meshing with the setting without going too far, so there are plenty of ‘you betchas’, ‘don’tcha knows’, and ‘believe you me’s’ all over. Along with other fun dialect words such as hullabaloo. My inner linguist was having a field day at how subtle the voice was, and yet how powerful. Yes, for the first couple of pages you will feel out of sorts, but Kippy’s viewpoint isn’t as heavy and transitions smoothly between heavy dialect and everyday talk.

The plot is slick and constantly makes you guess who the murderer really is. Is it Kippy, having a psychotic break? Is it Davey, Ruth’s brother home from the war with PTSD? Is it really the boyfriend, who is a complete douche-canoe? Or perhaps the mysterious Big Daddy from Ruth’s journal? There are so many possibilities you’ll be constantly guessing until the very end. While the murderer does seem to come out of nowhere, there is enough foreshadowing and hints that it’s still believable. The climax between Kippy and the killer is a taut, jaw-clenching revelation that is both heartbreaking and horrifying.

The best parts of the novel are the believable relationships between characters. Kippy and her father, Dom, have a decent relationship even though he’s constantly trying to be her shrink and counsel her at every turn. Kippy’s friendship with Ruth, revealed throughout the book, is realistic in a way that few book friendships are—they are people we would both kill and kill for. The romantic relationship is (thankfully) not insta-love, which has been fraught through many of the YA novels that I’ve been reading. There’s a build, a genuine interest, and a decent pay off at the end, but it’s not the main plot of the story.

There are a lot of memorable, interesting characters that work to support Kippy from her father to her childhood babysitter, from her classmates to members of a therapy group. Each character serves some kind of purpose in this book and it seems that very few of them aren’t integral to the story in some way. Each has memorable characteristics and some you’ll hate, a few you’ll tolerate, and many you’ll love.

No One Else Can Have You reminds us that there’s a fine line between love and obsession. Between giving someone a hug and squeezing them so hard they can’t breathe. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a murder mystery set in Wisconsin, for people who look for the dark truth behind every polite smile, and for those of us who love maybe a little too hard at times. It’s an enjoyable, fast-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Don’tcha know?