Small town life is very different. There are a great many ways in which this is true, but few are as extreme – or as dramatic – as crime. It’s not that it’s less common, though it is; it’s the way it affects the town. The way a mob mentality can take over and turn a quest for justice into a personal attack on the town’s reputation. The way vendettas and phobias against outsiders can blind the people to things they know. No One Else Can Have You takes a look at all those issues and more… through a farcical dark young adult comedy. I have mixed feelings about this.
Crime and comedy are tough to blend. It’s been done and done well plenty of times, but it requires a deft balance – and even stories that hit that balance perfectly are going to turn some readers off. Writer Kathleen Hale tries to downplay a lot of the genre’s darkness, which I’m fine with because Hale never quite feels comfortable with darkness. The book’s best bits lean more towards elaborate, off-kilter farce, set-pieces of sublime ridiculousness that find our heroine stumbling haphazardly into problems (and, occasionally, solutions) that would be incredibly easy to avoid. But, of course, the townsfolks’ tacit agreement to avoid uncomfortable truths is why Kippy is the only one who stands a chance to solve this case.
Make no mistake: No One Else Can Have You is a mess. It veers between broad comedy and dark procedural, with neither element every really meshing. The book has drawn a lot of comparisons as a young adult Fargo for its combination of crime, comedy, and small town life, but it lacks the Coens’ razor-sharp satirical precision and depth of character. It needs its Marge Gunderson, its sympathetic, human character navigating the mess; instead, the central character is just one of a cast of crazies. In its worst moments, No One Else Can Have You seems loudly condescending of its small-town cast and dismissive of its story-driving investigation.
And yet, despite its flaws, despite the many ways in which the book doesn’t really work, I still kind of really liked it. The novel’s strongest segments eventually develop a darkly manic slapstick energy stemming from Kippy’s odd, loopy worldview. It never quite lost the stink of condescension to me, but the bizarre twists of Kippy’s investigation became more and more a gleefully fun reflection of Kippy’s loopy inner life. While I would have liked a more controlled pace, stronger character development, a more interesting plot to go along with the unpredictable sense of fun, I can at least say this: No one else could have written No One Else Can Have You.
Cal Cleary is a librarian, critic and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperTeen. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.