Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.
17-year-old Arman Dukoff can't remember life without anxiety and chronic illness 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.
The Smaller Evilby Stephanie Kuehn
Arman is a teenager with zero self-esteem and zero support at home. He lives a sad life with no prospects of improvement. That is until he meets Beau who has invited him to his retreat in the mountains with hopes to pull him out of his self-loathing and help him with his severe anxiety. While at the retreat, the craziest things happen and it's difficult to distinguish between reality and Arman's imagination. It's also difficult to see who is on his side and who is framing him for something he may or may not have done. The ways Arman deals with his anxiety gets a little uncomfortable, you just want to hold his hands and tell him to take a deep breath, but it felt really authentic. Kuehn did a fantastic job of showing what a person who suffers from anxiety might be dealing with. The best way for me to describe this novel is bizarre. It is like a story you would hear about on the television show "Unsolved Mysteries". Stephanie Kuehn's writing felt a bit abstract and I found myself unsure of where things were going from time to time throughout the book. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary, this book is for you.
Review of an Advance Reader's Copy
Profanity/Language: 23 religious exclamations; 45 mild obscenities; 5 religious profanities; 2 derogatory names; 47 scatological words; 19 anatomical terms; 32 F-word derivatives.
Violence/Gore: Several (18) brief incidents including character thinking about possibly getting killed; character compares something difficult to jumping off of a cliff; verbal threat; character finds another dead; secondhand report that character cuts self, causing a lot of bleeding; reference to attempted suicide; character dreams about another getting killed; graffiti on walls; on several occasions character digs fingernails into skin until bleeding occurs; character gets really bad blisters on feet from hiking; character is kneed in the back; character overdoses on drugs and alcohol (gets stomach pumped at hospital).
Sex/Nudity: Many (21) brief incidents including holding hands; cuddling; arms around waist; elderly character naked after bathing; reference to male escorts; graffiti of female body parts; reference to animals mating; references to sex; reference to nudity; reference to having sexual desires; character thinks about getting a character pregnant or getting an STD; slapping butt; squeezing leg; characters making out; implied sex; incidents of sexual activity with and without explicit detail.
Mature Subject Matter:
Cancer, illegal drug use, anxiety (character suffers from), underage drinking, suicide, teenage sex.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Character's parent is a meth dealer; suggestion that character might be stoned; several references to prescription medication that character uses for several issues; reference to drunks and marijuana smoke; minor character is upset because unable to smoke marijuana; character smoking cigarette; minor and adults drinking wine with dinner; reference to a beer gut; characters talking about the effects of a drug; character went to jail on drug charges; parent tells child he's going to teach him how to drink alcohol; character's father overdoses on drugs and alcohol; minor smokes marijuana; character thinks about taking drugs to commit suicide.
Reviewed By Jenny