When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen is classified in genres by Amazon as psychological, mystery, and thriller. There is something missing. All the labels are true but there is more. The on-again, off-again romantic relationship between Leah and Talmadge introduces a new element. The character of Leah is central to everything in this novel It is therefore not surprising that her character provides the strongest and weakest points of the novel. Worthy is strong, interesting, and exciting up to the 90% point on my Kindle. From that point, up to the 98% point, I was bored with the feelings displayed by almost all characters. I am happy that I continued to read because the last 2% of the novel, while not quite a surprise, was well done and worth the wait. I gave Worthy four plus Amazon stars and would recommend it for YA reading.
The following pieces of information are not spoilers. I liked the clever title. Worthy is the name of a town where Mary Claire, Brynne, and Keary were cheerleaders. Leah was the fourth member of the central cheerleading clique but Leah was not with her friends when they traveled to a football game on the last night of their lives. The reason Leah was not there is a secret. Whalen builds up the tension step by step throughout the novel by leaving hints as to what the secret might be. Readers might guess the nature of the secret about halfway through the novel but there are still surprising elements of the secret when it is finally revealed. Leah felt guilty about not being with her friends. She was happy to be alive but she felt Graham, a classmate, was perhaps not totally at fault as he drove a car at high speed that crashed into the car driven by Keary and killing Leah’s three friends.
Worthy was a small town where everyone knew everyone else. It had been that way in Worthy for generations. Football was king and all who played football were royalty almost worshipped by adults in the town and emulated by classmates. Cheerleaders were part of the royal court. The Worthy Wildcats had an unbroken winning streak of 470 games. Everyone in Worthy was proud of this and proud of their team. Players and cheerleaders could do no wrong. And if they did occasionally go astray, observers were careful to look away. On the night the cheerleaders died everyone was looking for someone to blame. Groupthink opinion identified Graham as the driver of the car that killed the girls as a culprit who deserved social shunning and possible criminal prosecution. This was not unjustified because only Leah knew a secret that could change things.
Chapter titles of the novel are character names. Readers learn the backstories of Ava, a substitute teacher at the school and wife of Clay. Her husband had returned to Worth to take over the family restaurant. He was part of the generational history of Worthy, an accepted resident. Ava was an outsider with too much time on her hands as Clay seemed to be in the restaurant 24/7. As a substitute teacher, she had opportunities to make new friends. Darcy is Graham’s mother. Shunned by the town for her son’s actions, abandoned by her husband for a younger woman, she finds a bit of solace at the restaurant. Marglyn is Mary Claire’s mother. Mary Claire didn’t have time for her mother too much because mon seemed overly concerned and attentive to Ginny, a “stray” she had befriended and decided to help. Ginny was near Mary Claire’s age and Mary wished mom would give her some of the attention she gave to Ginny. The adult women, wives and mothers, share chapter titles with Leah.
If you get to the 90% point and feel as I did, (what happened to slow this down?) give the novel a chance and read to the end. It sells for USD 4.99 but I read it for free with the Kindle Unlimited subscription.