I was immediately intrigued, and requested an ARC from BookSirens, when I saw the adorable cover of Little Rock and learned that it was a queer YA mystery taking place at a boarding school and involving an ancient Celtic legend. I did see the trigger warnings for sex, violence and rape, but based on the cover design and the fact that it was a YA book, I didn’t think too much about it. So that’s my own mistake I guess, but still with the trigger warnings, I don’t think there was enough to fully prepare you for the brutal rape scene. So please, before going into this book, be aware that it has content that could potentially be harmful for some readers, and that the trigger warnings for violence and rape should be taken very seriously. (If possible before the release, I would really like to advice the author to add a clearer warning in the beginning of the actual book explaining this, not just the trigger warnings listed by BookSirens.)
Little Rock is set at a boarding school in England in 1993, following American teenager Owen Appletoff who is sent to the school against his own will after the death of his mother. He soon befriends and starts getting romantic feelings for his roommate, the handsome Taylor, but also, confusingly enough, finds himself being attracted to bad boy and school bully Daniel.
Owen is going through a lot in this story; not only grieving his mother and dealing with his estranged father, but also being haunted by strange visions and interested in finding out the mysteries, old legends and hidden truths at his new school, while also trying to understand his sexuality and who he is as a person. I really rooted for Owen right from the start! He was such a sweet, innocent and caring main character, and I felt very protective of him in his struggles. I’m such a fan of first love stories, it’s one of the big reasons why I love the YA genre, and there were so many sweet moments in this story, with Owen’s first kiss and first love (loves) and his sexual awakening.
I also took both Taylor and Daniel to my heart and couldn’t make up my mind about whom I wanted Owen to choose… I’m usually not a big fan of love triangles, but here it was done really well. So well actually that perhaps Owen wouldn’t have had to choose, but it could have been a full polyamory relationship with all three. There was definitely the potential for the latter, in the sweet way they all cared for each other! Especially after the tent scene (don’t want to spoil anything, but it was one of my favorite parts of the story!).
I really enjoyed the parts in this story about self-discovery and sexual awakening, as well as the Celtic legends and Hades and Persephone retellings/references. But as regards the actual mystery plot, there was just something that felt off when it came to the pacing and development. It took almost a third in for the mystery to take part of the story, and then it suddenly turned way darker and creepier than I expected for a YA story (not only because of the rape scene mentioned above). I don’t usually read dark mysteries, so it’s probably my own fault, but I didn’t enjoy all the creepy vibes and how dark and heavy the story turned with all the descriptive violence, and especially the brutal, painful, rape scene that went on for pages. It really threw me off balance and the story never recovered after that for me. In fact, I’m not sure I would even call this a mystery, the way it developed it really felt more like a horror story to me.
I also had some issues with the writing style. For a YA set in the 1990s it was written in a quite old-fashioned way that made the language feel too adult for the teenage characters. For example, calling each other “old chap” didn’t feel like an expression a teenager would use, not even in the 1990s.
So, sadly this was not a book for me. But please don’t let that discourage you if you’re into dark mysteries, and considering the trigger warnings ahead of reading, then this book could very well be your new favorite! There were a lot of parts that were really good, like the amazing characters, Owen’s journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, the sweet ‘first-love, first-kiss’ parts and the queer relationship. If only it hadn’t been for the brutal violence and the way it turned into a horror story rather than a mystery… So, 2.5 stars rounding up to 3 in total.
Thank you BookSirens for the free review copy. All opinions are my own and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
2.5 stars rounding up to 3
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All 1 Star 2 Stars 3 Stars 4 Stars 5 Stars Abbi Glines Abby Kaitz Abdi Nazemian Adam Silvera Adib Khorram Aiden Thomas Aisha Saeed Aislinn Brophy AJ Collins Alexandra Christo Alex Beltran Alexene Farol Follmuth Alexis Hall Alex Kelly Alex Sanchez Alice Dolman Alice Oseman Alice Winn Ali Hazelwood Alison Cochrun Al Riske Alwyn Hamilton Amanda Ferreira Amanda Woody A. Meredith Walters Amy Aislin Amy Harmon Amy S. Foster Amy Spalding André Aciman Andy V Roamer Angie Thomas Annabeth Albert A. Poland Ashley Poston Ashley Woodfolk Ashlyn Kane Audrey Coulthurst Ban Gilmartin Becca Fitzpatrick Becky Albertalli Benjamin Alire Saenz Beth Bolden Bill Konigsberg B.L. Maxwell Briar Prescott Bri Spicer Brooke Skipstone Cait Nary Cale Dietrich Cara Dee Casey McQuiston Cassandra Clare Cat Sebastian C.F. White C.G. Drews Charlie Adhara Charli Meadows Chasten Buttigieg Chris Bedell Christina Lauren Christina Lee Ciara Smyth Claerie Kavanaugh Clarissa Pattern C.L. Beaumont Colette Davison Colleen Hoover Courtney Kae Crystal Frasier C.S. Pacat Dallas Smith Daven McQueen David Biddle David Yoon Dean Atta Debbie McGowan Debbie Rigaud Debbie Schrack Deborah Harkness Delia Owens D.G. Carothers Dhonielle Clayton D.N. Bryn Douglas Stuart Dustin Thao Elisa A. Bonnin Elizabeth Acevedo Elizabeth Arroyo Elle Kennedy Elle Wright E.L. Massey E. Lockhart Emery Lee Emily M. Danforth Emily Mims Erin Watt Ernest Cline Evan J. Corbin Eve Morton Everina Maxwell Evie Dunmore Felice Stevens F.T. Lukens Grace Williams Gwen Martin Hannah Grace Hanya Yanagihara Hayden Stone Heather Truett H.E. Edgmon Hettie Bell Holly Black Hope Irving H.S. Valley Hudson Lin Ingrid Sterling Jacob Gelman Jacqueline Lee Jacqueline Woodson James L. Sutter Jamie Deacon Jandy Nelson Jax Calder Jay Hogan Jeanette Winterson Jeff Zentner Jen Bailey Jenna Evans Welch Jenn Burke Jennifer E. Smith Jennifer G. Edelson Jennifer Gilmore Jennifer Iacopelli Jennifer Kropf Jennifer Niven Jenny Downham Jenny Han Jeremy Ray Jesse H. Reign Joelle Lynne John Green Jonny Garza Villa Julianne Donaldson Julian Winters Kacen Callender Kami Garcia Kara Leigh Miller Kasie West Kate Larkindale Katharine McGee Kathleen Mareé Kathy Anderson K.A. Tucker KD Casey Kendall Grey Kevin Van Whye Kiley Reid Kim Fielding Kim Holden Kim Liggett Kitty Bardot Kris Ripper K.S. Marsden Laura Hall Laura Pavlov Laura Silverman Lauren James Lauren Shippen Laurie Frankel Leah Johnson Lee Matthew Goldberg Leigh Bardugo Lex Croucher Leylah Attar Lisa Henry Lisa Williamson Lisa Wingate Liv Rancourt Liz Plum Lola Noire Lynn Michaels Mackenzi Lee Madeline Miller Magdalena Di Sotru Maggie Doolin Maggie Stiefvater Malin Persson Giolito Malorie Blackman Margaret Stohl Marie Lu Mary E. Pearson Mason Deaver Matthew R. Corr M.A. Wardell Melanie Munton Melina Marchetta Meredith Russo Miel Moreland Mila Gray Miranda Kenneally Moa Backe Astot Morgan James M. Tasia Nancy Garden Natalie Haynes Nathaniel Shea Nicholas Sparks Nicola Yoon Nic Starr Nic Stone Nina Kenwood Nita Tyndall Nora Sakavic N.R. Walker Nyla K. Owen Lach Penny Aimes Phil Stamper Quinn Anderson Rachael Brownell Rachael Lippincott Rachel Hawkins Rachel Reid Racquel Marie Rainbow Rowell Ray Stoeve Renée Dahlia Rhiannon Wilde Riley Hart River Braun Roan Parrish Robin Gow Roseanne A. Brown Rowan MacKemsley Ruby Moone Ruta Sepetys Ryan La Sala Sally Green Sally Rooney Sarah J. Maas Sarah Waters Sarina Bowen Sasha Laurens Saundra Mitchell Saxon James Serena Bell Shannon O’Connor Sidney Bell Simone Elkeles Siryn Sueng Sophia DeRise Sophia Soames Sophie Gonzales S.R. Lane Stephen Chbosky Stephenie Meyer Steven Salvatore Susan Mac Nicol Suzanne Collins Tahereh Mafi Tal Bauer Tamara Girardi Taylor Jenkins Reid Teagan Hunter Terry J. Benton-Walker Tiffany D. Jackson Timothy Janovsky T.J. Klune T.L. Bradford Tobly McSmith Tomasz Jedrowski Tomi Adeyemi Tracy Deonn Tucker Shaw Val Wise Veronica Rossi Veronica Roth V.E. Schwab Wesley Chu Victor Dixen Victoria Aveyard V.L. Stuart Xan Van Rooyen Yamile Saied Méndez