I have been reading so much fantasy lately that I needed something different to switch things up. I loved They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman and I was so excited to receive an e-ARC of her next book, They’ll Never Catch Us! While both murder mystery/thrillers, these books have totally different vibes and I was happy to see this book wasn’t a carbon copy or remixed version of her debut.
If you haven’t read They Wish They Were Us, no worries! These stories are unrelated, so you can read one and not the other. If you want to check out my review of They Wish They Were Us though, you can find it here!
Thank you to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book! This is a spoiler free, honest review and all thoughts and feelings are my own.
They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Genre: YA Thriller
From rising star Jessica Goodman, author of They Wish They Were Us, comes a new fast-paced thriller about two sisters vying for the top spot on their cross-country team–the only way out of their stifling small town. But their dreams are suddenly thrown into peril when a new girl threatens to take away everything they’ve worked for… until she disappears.
Stella and Ellie Steckler are only a year apart, but their different personalities make their relationship complicated. Stella is single-minded, driven, and she keeps to herself. Cross-country running is her life and she won’t let anything get in the way of being the best. Her sister Ellie is a talented runner too, but she also lets herself have fun. She has friends. She goes to parties. She has a life off the course.
The sisters do have one thing in common, though: the new girl, Mila Keene. Both Stecklers’ lives are upended when Mila comes to town. Mila was the top runner on her team back home and at first, Ellie and Stella view her as a threat. But soon Ellie can’t help but be drawn to her warm, charming personality. After her best friend moved away and her first boyfriend betrayed her, Ellie’s been looking for a friend. In a moment of weakness, she even shares her darkest secret with Mila. For her part, Stella finds herself noticing the ways she and Mila are similar. Mila is smart and strong–she’s someone Stella can finally connect with. As the two get closer, Stella becomes something she vowed she’d never be: distracted.
With regionals approaching and college scouts taking notice, the pressure is on. Each girl has their future on the line and they won’t let friendships get in their way. But then, suddenly, Mila goes out on a training run and never returns. No one knows what happened, but all eyes are on the Steckler sisters.
I used to run in high school for fun, but I was never a long distance runner nor could I ever be. It was interesting to have a murder mystery surrounding a cross country track team, specifically the girls on the team. Our story follows two sisters, Stella and Ellie, both runners who have very different personalities. Stella is more aloof and shy – she’s not someone who goes out of her way to make friends or share her emotions. She’s very focused on her goals, one of them being the best at track. Meanwhile, Ellie is also a motivated person, but she’s more personable. She can be a team player and can ease her way into a group better than Stella. Stella wants to win back the scholarship she lost. Ellie wants to finally beat her sister and be the one to take home the prize, a full ride to college.
The two of them are pretty opposite, but they have something in common – their secrets and that Mila transfering to their school is going to ruin everything. My favorite thing about Goodman’s books is that she writes her characters so well. Even characters that we only interact with once or twice are completely fleshed out and add to the story, rather than just appear in it. Her characters are great at making you feel a certain way and I had a lot of feelings while reading this book.
For one, I feel so bad for Stella. Seen as a cold “monster”, she is forced to go to anger management after attacking a girl at a race and breaking her collar bone. Misunderstood and unable to communicate how she feels, or what happened, Stella just lives with the assumptions about her. Even her own sister Ellie makes comments about her anger and can be mean to Stella. Not to say she’s perfect, because Stella is a jerk to Ellie a lot too. Their relationship as sisters is very realistic and as an older sister, I can completely relate. You would kill or die for them, but god forbid they take the last protein bar and it’s all out war. Sisters can be so mean, not just with words, but with physical fighting too, especially as teenagers.
And poor Ellie has a secret of her own too – an illicit relationship with a guy already dating someone. I wanted to yell at Ellie for allowing this guy to be in her life. It was so clear he was manipulating her to keep her as a side piece and every time this guy spoke, I wanted to punch him. Plus, it was clear he was also manipulating his current girlfriend too just to get a recommendation to his top priority school. An overall charmer here!
For the actual plot, I liked it. I thought the set up was really good and the reveal at the end was something! I didn’t even see it coming. But there were some parts that I wasn’t a fan of. For one, certain plot points or themes in this book became increasingly repetitive. Like mentioning how close Stella and Ellie were during the “Dark Days” when their mom was in the thick of her addiction. Or how they could always communicate with each other through glances. It was repeated so much throughout I started skimming over it, not because I had any problem with the background, but because it was mentioned every other chapter. Reminders are great, but constant reminders are really annoying.
Overall, I really loved this book. Goodman has a way of getting you sucked into the story and the mystery, stringing you along, waiting for the big reveal. I also loved the fact that we had discussions of different struggles that teenagers face, especially teenage girls. We have Stella, who’s possibly neurodivergent (it’s never specified) and a lesbian. We have Ellie, who goes through a situation of her own and deals with a toxic relationship. And we have several characters who are the children of addicts, among other things that happen. There’s a lot of real life situations in this book and it was something I really appreciated!
I’m going to include a trigger warning list – some of these may be spoilers, but I will strike them through if you want to avoid them!
murder (off page/past), assault (on page/off page/past), bullying, sexism, misogyny, gaslighting, child neglect (past), mention of drug abuse (off page/past), mention of addiction (off page/past), mention of rehab and recovery (off page/past), e
motional abuse, mention of running away from home (past), teen pregnancy (off page/past), abortion (off page/past).
If this sounds interesting, be sure to check out Jessica’s debut novel, They Wish They Were Us!