{Leah Reviews} The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Keuhn

Posted August 4, 2016 by Leah in Reviews / 4 Comments

{Leah Reviews} The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Keuhn

The Smaller Evil

by Stephanie Kuehn
Pages: 256
Published on August 2nd 2016
by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Amazon | B&N | Goodreads

Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.   17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to "evolve," as Beau, the retreat leader, says.
Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman's not sure, but more than anyone he's ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.
The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he's failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.
And then, in an instant Arman can't believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.
As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he's always trusted the least: himself.

3 Stars

When I finished reading The Smaller Evil, I had to reflect on what had just happened…or what I think just happened. There’s no doubt that The Smaller Evil will not sit well with a lot of readers because of some of its themes, but it’s definitely worth a look.

This is an atmospheric novel. Stephanie Keuhn expertly weaves tension and unease into the story. Arman, our main character, is heading to a week long “program” with other people, including two of his peers, that promises to help him overcome his personal issues. The compound is questionable. What exactly is this place? Who is Beau, the enigmatic leader?

Arman was an interesting unreliable character. His personal issues include a troubled home life and high anxiety, which makes him a perfect candidate for this program. He–and the reader–were always kept on the periphery of what’s really happening. His personal issues are written about in an honest manner.

When Beau disappears, he’s pulled in to the mystery, and everyone’s telling him one thing or another of what could have happened. Arman himself doesn’t even know the truth. Is it real? Is he imagining it? The plot is so twisted and unpredictable, and I enjoyed it.

However, I am confused about the end. Like other reviewers, I think I know what happened, but if it’s the ending I was supposed to get out of it, it probably doesn’t come close. I feel like the end was supposed to make me say, “A ha! I get it now!” I, however, did not.

The Smaller Evil is a fascinating thriller, albeit one that hangs its resolution over the reader’s head.

**I received an eARC of this book via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!**


About Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie Kuehn holds degrees in linguistics and sport psychology, as well as a doctorate in clinical psychology. Her debut young adult novel, CHARM & STRANGE, was the winner of the 2014 William C. Morris Award, and her second novel for teens, COMPLICIT, was named to YALSA’s 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Stephanie was also awarded the 2015 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for her forthcoming novel, THE SMALLER EVIL and her most recent book, DELICATE MONSTERS, won the 2016 Northern California Book Award. Stephanie lives in Northern California with her husband, their three children, and a joyful abundance of pets.



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4 responses to “{Leah Reviews} The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Keuhn

  1. I have been curious about this author’s books. This sounded really interesting, but I don’t want to deal with a confusing ending. I hate when I don’t get what happens in a book. The rest of the story sounds good though.
    Great review, Leah!

    • Leah

      This was my first book by this author. Now I have to read her other ones. She’s definitely talented when it comes to suspense and atmosphere.

      I hate not getting a concrete conclusion out of a book’s ending too, and I feel like I only scratched the surface with my review. 🙂 I hope you get a chance to check The Smaller Evil out.

      Thank you!

  2. I love unreliable characters, but I love to “get” what I am reading. I’ll have to think about this one, because it doesn’t sound bad. Great review!

    • Leah

      Thank you!

      Unreliable characters are some of my favorites as well, and when a book comes out with them as a lead, I have to see what’s up. But yes, I need closure with my endings, too, and I REALLY wanted closure with this book. 🙂 Let me know what you think if you do read it.

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