Review: Thicker Than Water by Brigid Kemmerer

Thicker Than Water feat. @o_speak summer scarf.

Eighteen-year-old Thomas Bellweather is in a pickle. He’s the new kid in town, his mother has been found strangled to death in her bed and the cops are convinced he did it. They just need proof. The only person who believes he’s innocent is seventeen-year-old Charlotte, who feels inexplicably drawn to Thomas. However, Charlotte has three older brothers—all cops, all overprotective—who are none too pleased about her hanging out with someone as mad, bad and dangerous to know as Thomas appears.

If Charlotte and Thomas are going to find and catch the real killer, they’ll have to be sneaky, and the truth is far stranger than either of them can guess.

For a little context, when I picked up Thicker Than Water (Allen & Unwin, Jan. 2016), I was an exhausted, emotionally drained husk of a reader. I’d just finished Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (Picador, 2015) and was sobbing, knees-to-chest in my reading chair, trying to conjure happy thoughts and coming up short. (More on that when I can look at the damn book without wanting to hurl it across the room—I love it. I hate it. It’s complicated.) Anyhoo, I needed a major pick-me-up and Thicker Than Water was just the ticket. Kemmerer is a great wit—her narrators, Thomas and Charlotte, are smart and funny and their dialogue snappy; within pages, I was hooting with laughter.

It was incredibly refreshing. Paranormal YA romances are one of my guilty bookish pleasures. But a lot of them are written in clunking, trainwreck prose (here’s looking at you, Twilight), and it kinda spoils the mood when you’re like: ‘Ooh, they’re kiss—THAT’S NOT HOW SENTENCES WORK!!!’ Also, adjectives. So many adjectives. ‘…His warm, deep, salted caramel and butterscotch, summer sunset, lay-me-down-by-the-fireside eyes…’ Ugh. No. By comparison, Kemmerer’s writing is very ‘clean’, for want of a better word.

The story is fun and compelling. The teasing tension of the romance combined with Thomas and Charlotte’s secret search to discover the truth about Thomas’s mother’s murder and clear his name had me flippin’ the pages like nobody’s business.

However, as I got deeper into the book, I found the pacing a little uneven—while there’s a sense that exciting things lie ahead, Kemmerer makes the reader wait a reeeeaaaalllly long time before getting to the good stuff, and then the final fifty-odd pages feel rushed. I knew from the blurb that this was a paranormal romance thriller, and while there’s some (though admittedly not much) foreshadowing that one or more of the characters is not what they seem, Kemmerer leaves it until the book’s final quarter to reveal the supernatural twist. If I hadn’t read the blurb, I would have had a serious WTF? moment. And, without giving too much away, the paranormal stuff is COMPLICATED. The kind of complicated that leads to logic flaws and troubling implications about how much free will some of the characters have and what they are capable of consenting to. Kemmerer emphasises that none of the characters can be forced to do anything they deep down don’t want to, but that’s not the same as actively choosing a particular course of action—not even close—and I didn’t find it a particularly compelling argument for a lot of what goes down. I want to call attention to it because this is the kind of insidious creepiness that’s easy to overlook—in the same way that it’s easy to gloss over the fact that Twilight is essentially a love story between a really old (and emotionally abusive) man and a young, impressionable girl.

In Kemmerer’s defense, it’s implied that Thicker Than Water is only the first installment of Charlotte and Thomas’s story, so maybe she’ll dig up in book two and find a way to explain away the icky implications of this book. I hope she does because I like Charlotte and Thomas and would happily follow them for another few books.

I quickly warmed to the characters, especially Charlotte; despite her uber-controlling family, the girl’s got moxie. And her best friend, Nicole, wins the book. Point of criticism, though: these two do banter so well, it’s a real shame that every. Single. One. Of their conversations revolves around Thomas.

I also wasn’t a fan of how coddled Charlotte is or how her family expect her to behave like a proper young lady—whatever that means these days. While she stages several (rather feeble) protests against the way her family treats her and makes the occasional snarky remark: ‘All the men in the family know what’s best for poor, defenceless Charlotte’, she’s still controlled and infantilised by her older brothers. She also gets ‘saved’ by Thomas. A lot. For all her smarts, she’s pretty helpless—in the first few chapters alone she faints and sprains her ankle, meaning Thomas has to carry her, which I found more unsettling than romantic (see point above about infantilising). And her idea of rebelling is cooking for Thomas rather than for her brothers.

So, the verdict. Ugh, this one is tricky. On one level, I thoroughly enjoyed Thicker Than Water—it’s thrilling and sexy and fun. Kemmerer’s prose is tight and smart and her characters’ internal monologues are hilarious. If the story was just: misunderstood boy meets intelligent-yet-sheltered girl who falls in love and helps him clear his name of a crime he didn’t commit, I’d call it a five-star read. And I thought that was where it was heading, but then, uh-oh: paranormal tweest!! that casts a creeper pall over the entire book. It’s so disappointing because it’s a brilliant read, save for this one fatal flaw that, frustratingly, is all too typical of the genre.

Thicker Than Water

See Thicker Than Water on Goodreads and purchase through AmazonBook Depository and Kobo.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of Thicker Than  Water in exchange for an honest review. 

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