Review: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

Title No One Else Can Have You
Author Kathleen Hale
Published January 7th, 2014 by HarperTeen
Pages 384 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Received an Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher for review (Thanks, HarperTeen!), eBook
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters

Small towns are nothing if not friendly. Friendship, Wisconsin (population: 688) is no different. Around here, everyone wears a smile. And no one ever locks their doors. Until, that is, high school sweetheart Ruth Fried is found murdered. Strung up like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield.

Unfortunately, Friendship’s police are more adept at looking for lost pets than catching killers. So Ruth’s best friend, Kippy Bushman, armed with only her tenacious Midwestern spirit and Ruth’s secret diary (which Ruth’s mother had asked her to read in order to redact any, you know, sex parts), sets out to find the murderer. But in a quiet town like Friendship — where no one is a suspect — anyone could be the killer.

“In a place where no one else seemed to understand anything except how to gut a buck and go to church and be over-the-top nice without ever really bonding, Ruth and I made each other feel less lonely.”

The town of Friendship, Wisconsin (Population: 688) is a quiet, simple place. In a locale where hunting is heroic, locking one’s doors is a foreign concept and everyone is on a first and last name basis, the biggest concern for its residents is how to escape becoming permanently ensnared in the clutches of a life spent wallowing in sleepy mediocrity and boredom. All that changes, however, when the body of eighteen-year-old high school junior Ruth Fried is discovered strung up like a scarecrow in a cornfield with her mouth and throat filled with straw and her lips stitched shut. As fear and suspicion mount and all trust is lost, Friendship and its residents are thrown into turmoil. This is especially true in the case of the best friend of the deceased, sixteen-year-old Kippy Bushman. While few are surprised when Ruth’s boyfriend, football phenom and resident trouble-maker, Colt Widdacombe, is identified as her murderer, Kippy is unable to take the sheriff department’s pronouncement at face value. Determined to get to the bottom of her best friend’s murder no matter what the cost, Kippy enlists the help of Ruth’s twenty-one-year-old brother, Davey, to aid in her own personal investigation. As Kippy will soon discover nestled within the pages of her friend’s diary, however, Ruth had more than her fair share of secrets and little, if anything, in Friendship, Wisconsin is quite as it appears to be.

“…As we drive back, I am relieved by this sadness creeping in. Fall used to be my favourite season. All that happy red, bright and scattered everywhere. Now I look around and all I see is death, moving across the leaves like a fire.”

Let me preface this review by saying the following: No One Else Can Have You will not be the right book for everyone. This book is different. This book is strange. This book is – Dare I say it? – Quirky. I’ve spoken to a number of fellow bloggers who were unable to finish it, who didn’t understand its purpose, or who simply didn’t care for Hale’s narrative style. The response to this book has been as polarizing as it has been passionate, and for once I find myself in the role of the proverbial odd man out as I champion a novel that has been met with skepticism by some of my peers. But here’s the thing: Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You felt like it was written just for me. You see, I am strange. I am quirky and awkward. I’m the sort of person who will cheerfully respond “Thanks!” when someone calls me weird. That isn’t to say that this makes me special in any way, but it might explain why I responded as positively to this novel as I did. While comparisons to the Coen Brother’s 1996 Fargo are not unwarranted, I was reminded of another cult classic as I read Hale’s charming debut novel. Not since David Lynch’s Twin Peaks have I been so confounded and enthralled by a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a small town and its weird and wonderful eccentricities. A surreal satire that was unlike anything I had read in recent memory, Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You is an ambitious, courageous, creative debut that is as haunting as it is hilarious and as endearing as it is extraordinary.

“There’s a lot I can’t put into words. And I guess in a way I looked to Ruth to fill the space, to be my everything, and probably that wasn’t okay. I never wanted to kiss her like she sometimes joked about. But in a way it was like we were two girls clinging to each other, trying not to drown.”

Let’s begin by discussing the elephant in the room. In what is likely in part a result of the backlash against the popularity of characters like Bella Swan of the Twilight series, often referred to more simply as ‘Mary Sues’, characters who are essentially blank slates onto which one can project their own feelings and desires, readers have begun to express a greater longing for characters with discernible flaws and weaknesses. Which brings me to the controversy surrounding some of the content in No One Else Can Have You. One of the primary concerns I’ve seen a number of bloggers address in their reviews are the rather questionable or otherwise offensive views expressed by a number of characters throughout the course of the novel. There have been accusations of slut shaming (i.e. References to Lisa Staake, the sheriff’s daughter, as a ‘hoochie mama’ and ‘blonde rabbit in heat’), the trivialization of serious issues (i.e. References to Davy’s post-traumatic stress disorder as a ‘postwar flip-out’) and other derogatory statements (i.e Colt’s reference to Kippy as a ‘stuck up virgin’ and to himself as a ‘faggot crybaby’) Now, let me be clear: Do I agree with or condone the viewpoints expressed by some of the characters in this novel? Absolutely not. That said, I don’t seek out books that will simply regurgitate my own value system back to me. Frankly, that would be both painfully boring and repetitive. Lamentable though it might be, the truth is that teenagers aren’t perfect. They say and do thoughtless, vulgar, callous and often cruel things. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility to hear a teenager express one or even all of these sentiments. And while this doesn’t make it okay or mean that we should stop trying to combat such derogatory and offensive behaviour, that doesn’t mean that we should pretend it doesn’t exist, either. To lament the lack of realism in fiction only to complain when the result is disagreeable or hard to swallow seems disingenuous to me. This isn’t to say that other readers aren’t entitled to their own feelings on the matter because they differ from my own or that they don’t have the right to be offended. Of course they do! The beauty of literature is that a number of people can read the same novel and respond to it in a variety of different ways. I recognize that certain issues might act as triggers for sensitive readers and that some might find said comments inexcusable no matter what the character’s age. In this particular instance, however, I believe that context is key to better understand how and why the characters act as they do, and the characters’ ages, as well as their upbringing and surroundings, go a long way to explain, if not condone, their behaviour.

“Anyway, I’ve never really understood the whole candlelit-vigil thing. Some of the seniors put a few together after the school shootings down south, and from what I can gather it’s usually just a bunch of girls weeping with all their might on purpose. The whole idea of people, like, weeping while holding fire seems irresponsible to me. Whenever I imagine vigils, I think of a hundred ponytails bursting into flames.”

Which brings us to our protagonist. Much like the novel itself, I predict that sixteen-year-old Kippy Bushman will be a polarizing figure. Awkward, anxious, and a little infantile, Kippy is what I would call an ‘acquired taste’. While I have little doubt that some readers will find her antics contrived or uncomfortable to read about, I was able to form a close connection to her character and could intimately relate to her experiences and behaviour. The best part of all? Kippy in no way felt like a fictional character. She’s awkward. She’s strange. She makes mistakes. She doesn’t always do the right thing. She dresses strangely. She’s a broken, vulnerable, imperfect, thoroughly unconventional protagonist who stole my heart from the outset. Having lost her mother to brain cancer as a child only to lose her best friend, Ruth, years later, Kippy has developed a unique set of coping mechanisms in order to process and make sense of her grief. From troll dolls to animal attacks, Batman to Harriet Tubman, Kippy fixates on a number of different passions which, while helping with the grieving process, also have the unfortunate result of alienating her from the rest of her peers. Her latest preoccupation? Diane Sawyer. The reporter quickly becomes an object of fascination for Kippy, and allows her to focus not on Ruth’s death, but on a proactive solution in order to solve the mystery of her murder. Likely because of the unimaginable loss and sorrow she has been forced to confront at a relatively young age, Kippy seems to have stagnated, suffering from a form of arrested development. As a result, Kippy can often come across as quite immature. She’s a young sixteen and her behaviour is often more akin to that of a child than a teenager. This immaturity, at least in part, falls squarely at her father’s door. A psychologist and counsellor at the local middle school, Dom attempts to support Kippy with positive affirmations and attempts to treat her as a respected equal. Unfortunately, these attempts, however well-intentioned, are more often than not unsuccessful. Dom’s behaviour often seems condescending rather than respectful and he unintentionally infantilizes Kippy with child-like nicknames (‘Porcupine’, ‘Cactus’, ‘Kipster’, etc). As much as I loved Kippy’s father and their interactions together (There was one scene in which Kippy requests a salad, a simple request that quickly turns comedic, that I particularly enjoyed), what I most appreciated about their relationship was how it developed over the course of the story. Kippy learns to step outside of her father’s shadow and forge her own identity.

“Kippy Bushman,” he says, taking the cookies from me. A buzz cut looks good on him. “How are you?”
I feel like I should know the answer to this by now, but I shrug. Davey’s face is wet, either from crying or people’s sloppy kisses. I look again at his hand. This morning I watched a Diane Sawyer interview where there wasn’t one awkward pause. The trick is to pose good questions.
“So how was being in the war?” I ask.
I’m always saying the wrong thing.”

Two words: Davey Fried. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new Book Boyfriend. While the twenty-one-year-old combat veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan played a relatively small role in the grand scheme of things, I looked forward to each and every appearance Davey made over the course of the novel. I appreciated that Kathleen Hale did not allow the romance, however adorable, to monopolize the overall story, but rather used it as a means of counterbalancing the otherwise macabre elements of the story. Davey himself is a contradiction in terms. A hardened, cynical man who has been forced to grow up far too quickly who’s confused and haunted by all he has been forced to do during the course of his service, Davey is also a lost child, hiding behind a thin veil of bravado and arrogance. What endeared me most to his character, however, was not this dichotomy is his nature, but rather his treatment of Kippy. At no time does he demean or mock her as many of the other residents of Friendship are want to do. He respects her contributions to their quest to uncover the truth behind Ruth’s murder and often leans on her for emotional support. And he likes her utility belt, too! What more could a girl ask for?

“The idea that local police are trying to figure this out is pretty crazy. I mean, you’d think they’d get the FBI. I’m not saying Friendship cops are stupid, just that they’re not used to something this serious. It feels like most of the time they’re either staking out the dam for radical Islamic terrorists or perpetuating false rumors about razor blades in apples. The only time I ever really saw them hustle was when I got my hand stuck in the tampon dispenser. The whole squad turned up, Jaws of Life and everything.”

The area in which this novel arguably shines most is in the strength and individuality of Kathleen Hale’s narrative voice. Told primarily from the first person perspective of the protagonist, Kippy, the author also chose to intersperse other unique forms of communiqué throughout the text such as newspaper articles, Facebook messages, emails and entries from the Sheriff’s log book and Ruth’s diary. This allowed the reader a unique perspective into the events of the novel and was an imaginative addition to what might otherwise have been a straightforward mystery. Sharp, satirical and clever, No One Else Can Have You is like an offbeat combination of Fargo, Twin Peaks and Drop Dead Gorgeous with the additional benefit of the author’s own unique outlook. A native of Wisconsin herself, Hale brings the quaint and peculiar town of Friendship to life in such a way as to delight and enchant me exceeding. When even the sternest of words is delivered alongside a jocular “You Betcha” or “Dontcha Know” and the local police cars are adorned with smiley faces, it’s difficult not to be charmed by this strange little place. While I can’t speak to the veracity of the author’s portrayal of Wisconsin having never been there myself, I was thoroughly entertained by the world which Hale fashioned. In regard to the mystery aspect of the novel, although I was able to discern the identity of Ruth’s murderer with little trouble, this in no way detracted from my overall enjoyment of the story. Rather, I was more interested in learning the killer’s motivation and watching Kippy conduct her investigation, which was full of a number of unexpected twists and turns along the way. That isn’t to say that it’s all quirky shenanigans and eccentric citizens in No One Else Can Have You, however. Silly and satirical though this novel may at times be with its bumbling lawmen and oversexed solicitors, Hale also knows instinctively when to write in a more earnest, meditative tone when the text calls for it. This was nowhere more evident than in the author’s portrayal of Kippy’s grief over Ruth’s death, which is heart-wrenching. Hale reminds us of the individual and deeply personal nature of the grieving process and forces us to follow along as Kippy struggles to make sense of the nonsensical cruelty of our mortality, her pain like an open, throbbing wound.

“It occurs to me that there are just too many distractions – too many people who are mean or vindictive without being all the way evil…It still feels like I’m missing something. And, like, maybe no matter how hard I investigate, I’ll never find one real murderer among all these decoys. There’s just so many different kinds of bad.”

To make a long story short (too late!): It’s because of books like this that I love to read as much as I do. Were I ever to complete one of the numerous works in progress I have languishing on my own computer, I could only hope it were half as creative and inspiring as this one. Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You was unlike anything I had ever read before and I’m so grateful I was able to experience it firsthand. A captivating mystery with a quirky cast of characters and darkly droll sensibility, Hale’s satirical debut novel crackles with an individuality and vivacity that stole both my breath and my heart. No One Else Can Have You is a dark, disturbing thrill ride that will make you laugh, cry and bite your nails as the mystery reaches its feverish crescendo. While I recognize that this novel might not be the right fit for everyone, I strongly urge you to read it and decide for yourself. Whether you love it or hate it, this is one story you won’t be able to forget any time soon. You Betcha’!

Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advanced reader copy and therefore might be subject to change.

Overall Rating

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Jen @ YA Romantics wrote “In sum, I think reader reactions to No One Else Can Have You will vary greatly. If you’re unsure, I’d advise you to try a few pages and see what you think. You’ll either find a rare YA comic gem, or you’ll save yourself a lot of readerly aggravation, you betcha.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Jessie @ Ageless Pages Reviews wrote “When you try to combine Pretty Little Liars and Fargo into a darkly humorous YA satire, you know that’s a lot for a debut author, or any author really, to attempt. It was a tough sell from the start and No One Else Can Have You never really made it out of the gate.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Faye @ The Social Potato wrote “All in all, I thought this was a brilliant work. I didn’t find it cliché and I definitely didn’t find it boring. It may be unconventional, but this character-driven mystery book was a thrilling ride all the way, and I absolutely recommend it to those who want something new and out of the box.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

20 responses to “Review: No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Oh, I just love your review! I’ve heard really mixed opinions about this book but I’m really glad to have read your positive thoughts on it and why you loved it. You’ve definitely piqued my interest again and I’m off to check whether my library has any plans on getting a copy if this in.
    Rebecca recently posted…Debut Delirium Kick-Off: Group Interview & GiveawayMy Profile

  2. Jamie says:

    Okay I had been so excited about this one and own it but then all these TERRIBLE reviews came in and I was like EEEP WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS BOOK. I am very thankful for your review! I saw a lot of these things you pointed out and I was perplexed if I would feel the same way, because like you, I don’t read things that just reflect my views. I don’t have to agree with a characters opinion to like a book. Just because the characters do something I don’t like doesn’t mean an author is condoning it or the book is saying THIS IS OKAY. It’s just a fact that, in life, some people will slut shame, some will be bigots, some will trivialize things. There’s a difference between a book doing those things and characters doing those things, for me. I’ve had a post about this this sitting in drafts for forever but I’m too scared of posting it haha.

    Anywho, I will happily be picking this up soon thanks to your review! I love dark and funny things so yay!
    Jamie recently posted…Top Ten Bookish ResolutionsMy Profile

    • I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Jamie! It’s clear what Hale’s intention was – to write a satire of small town society – and I think the text reflects that. The character’s behaviour is indicative of their upbringing and surroundings, and while I might not have agreed with or liked what many of the characters expressed, it was authentic for them. I think it’s an important distinction to make. My feelings about the novel would have been very different had I felt that Hale was advocating any of these stances, but I was never given that impression. She was simply writing the characters realistically, as cringe-worthy and/or offensive as their behaviour sometimes may be.

      You should definitely go ahead and post that discussion about this issue. I know that I for one would love to hear your thoughts on it in greater depth, and I think it could inspire a really interesting dialogue about the issue 😀
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Waiting On…Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphyMy Profile

  3. Truth be told, I was really turned off by the negative reviews. I loved the quirky cover and the I think the plot is interesting but I, as someone who relies heavily on recommendations and ratings, was highly doubting if this book could be a good one for me.

    Having read your AMAZING review though, I can’t help but want to read this for myself! You’ve mentioned that this was quite the satire story and while satire stories are sometimes scorned by some people, I actually tend to like them! I really think that it’s awesome that this book strays from the norm of YA Contemporary! 🙂 And of course you mentioned your new book boyfriend and now I have to read just to meet this Davey person! Cannot wait to read this!

    Loved your insights, Jen! <3
    Hazel @ Stay Bookish recently posted…Review: Under The Never Sky by Veronica RossiMy Profile

    • You definitely weren’t alone, Hazel! I think a number of prospective readers were dissuaded by a handful of negative reviews, so I was eager to offer a different perspective. I understand that it might be not be the right book for everyone given how unique (and strange) it often is, but I do think people should read it themselves before making up their minds. As you mentioned, I know some people don’t respond well to satire, particularly in literary form, but if you tend to enjoy it you very well might like No One Else Can Have You!

      Please let me know what you thought of it should you ever read it 🙂
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Waiting On…Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphyMy Profile

  4. Stormy says:

    It can be quite difficult to be the black sheep in the opposite way in the blogging community–when you love or like a book everyone else seems to hate. I have to admit I was in the majority for No One Else Can Have You, but I’ve definitely been there. I really liked Red by Alison Cherry, which most people disliked(which I also read as satire, which might be an interesting discussion someday). And I LOVED Dear Killer, even though everyone else I know who’s read an ARC so far thought it was awful.

    I actually didn’t mind most of the content in this book that other people hated(except for the part when they were making jokes about domestic violence and it was suppose to be played for laughs. *That* one really got me), because I agree it’s really important to take characters in the context. Even when Kippy’s comments annoyed me, she absolutely felt like a real person(I did like Kippy, by the way, so I agree with you there! She was my favorite part of the book).

    Even though this book definitely wasn’t for me, great review, as always! I think this is a book that can definitely spark discussion about characters and I think that’s important.
    Stormy recently posted…Goals, Bookish & Otherwise {Top Ten Tuesday}My Profile

    • I was heartbroken when some of the early negative reviews for No One Else Can Have You began rolling in – I can still remember how excited and inspired I was when I first read it, and to find I was in the minority was shocking and disappointing!

      If I can manage to work it into my review schedule, I would love to read Dear Killer. It’s one of my most eagerly anticipated debuts and the concept fascinates me!

      It’s funny that you mention Red – I was sure I would like it based on the description, but never read it because I was dissuaded from doing so after reading a number of scathing reviews. It sounds as though I need to take my own advice and read it, as I know better than anyone that what works for one reader might not for another, and vice versa.
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Waiting On…Side Effects May Vary by Julie MurphyMy Profile

  5. This is exactly what I was looking for before picking up my ARC of No One Else Can Have You to read. You see, I love murder mysteries. I thrive on them and then for this book to be described as a ‘dark, disturbing thrill ride that will make you laugh, cry and bite your nails as the mystery reaches its feverish crescendo’? Well, suffice it to say that I’m off to immerse myself in the latest murder mystery on the YA block.

    All thanks to your review, Jen!
    Sana @ artsy musings of a bibliophile recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Goals for 2014My Profile

    • Wow, I’m truly flattered by your comment – Thank you! There’s nothing I love more than inspiring someone to read something, particularly when it’s a book they might not otherwise pick up. I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to let me know what you thought once you’re finished! 😀
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Best of 2013: A Look BackMy Profile

  6. Frasier says:

    I’m so glad you loved this. I had issues with the book and still enjoyed it. I actually feared that the author would hate me (even though we’re friends) but she seemed to understand and still respected me for it. Which was awesome.

    But really, your reviews continue to be amazing.
    Frasier recently posted…Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren MorrillMy Profile

  7. I can handle quirky so I’m interested in giving this book a shot. Throw in a Twin Peaks reference and I’m sold!
    Awesome review, Jen.

  8. Jenni says:

    I am right there with you on everything you have said here, Jen. I think a huge thing with this novel is context and taking the characters for what they are meant to be, parodies of small town ignorance. I don’t think I connected with Kippy in the way that you did but I still very much liked her for who she was, she had me laughing so hard. Happy that we can be the black sheeps together on this one!
    Jenni recently posted…Review: Uninvited by Sophie JordanMy Profile

  9. Alexa S. says:

    I think it’s interesting that I’ve encountered so many different reactions to this book! That actually kind of makes me want to read it (though I’m obviously not sure, since I said “kind of”). Anyway, thank you for such an in-depth review! I feel like I have a better idea of what the book’s all about now.
    Alexa S. recently posted…I Simply Remember My Favorite Things, And Then I Don’t Feel So BadMy Profile

    • If nothing else, I’m glad I was able to give you a better grasp of what this story is about. This was one of the more difficult reviews I’ve had to write because the book could be described in such a vast number of ways, but I do hope I might have piqued someone’s interest 🙂 If you do read it, please let me know what you thought!
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Best of 2013: A Look BackMy Profile

  10. I really appreciate your review of this book – especially because reactions to it have been so all over the place. While I’m still not completely sure I’m the right reader for this book, I absolutely loved how you expressed your thoughts on it. And, there’s one thing you said in your review that I wanted to specifically comment on.

    “To lament the lack of realism in fiction only to complain when the result is disagreeable or hard to swallow seems disingenuous to me.” –> This is something that sometimes bothers me, too. I’ve noticed it a lot with certain controversial books, and I find it fascinating how people can tear a book to shreds solely for opinions expressed by a character within it. I honestly really loved that whole paragraph where you discussed this, so bravo for the thoughtful way you brought it up in your review. I really appreciated that little sidenote!
    Hannah @ So Obsessed With recently posted…Stories Are My RefugeMy Profile

    • Thank you so much, Hannah. I can’t tell you how much your comment meant to me! 🙂

      This was an extremely difficult review for me to write – The book meant a great deal to me, and I knew I wanted to confront the controversy head-on, as I had spoken to more than one reader who told me in no uncertain terms that they refused to read it based on some early negative publicity. I think it’s an important distinction to make between a character advocating a certain viewpoint or belief, and a novel or author doing so. I felt that in this case the context was key to better understanding the content of the story. No One Else Can Have You was clearly meant to be a satire of small town society, and I think the character’s viewpoints and behaviour reflected that. As you said, although I didn’t always agree with what was being said (and cringed on more than one occasion), I would far prefer that to the alternative. I’ve always advocated for realism in the work I read, and to condemn an author for doing so simply because I didn’t like what was being said would seem hypocritical and false. This novel could be used to create an interesting dialogue, and I think could act as great fodder for a larger discussion about realism in fiction, although I don’t know that I’m the right person to write about it as I don’t know that I could adequately express my thoughts on the issue.
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Best of 2013: A Look BackMy Profile

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