Mindy McGinnis has never been one to sugar coat her YA characters, whether it’s the spiral of a mentally deranged AP kid, an athlete getting hooked on heroin, or a revenge-seeking sister. And she does it again with the two female characters in this book, Tress and Felicity. The Initial Insult is the first of a duology, and if I’m honest, I was ticked when this audio ended. It’s the ultimate cliffhanger of an ending, and if I have to wait another year for this to finish, well, that’s my fault, I guess. But I’m still not happy. The problem is, you will plow through this book because it is intense, concise, and the relationship between Tress and Felicity is riveting. If you don’t know going into it, this story is set in Amontillado, Ohio. If that sounds familiar to Poe fans, it should. It’s a retelling of his classic The Cask of Amontillado in which a man takes revenge upon another who has insulted him. The revenge takes the form of burying him alive, brick by brick, under the catacombs. The Initial Insult isn’t terribly loose in this part of the retelling, as Tress decides to seek revenge (sort of?) on Felicity while at a party and brick by brick, entombs her. But the question is, why?
Years ago, the two girls were best friends. Felicity’s mom approved the friendship since Tress’s family was one of the founding families of Amontillado, and in that town, it means something. Felicity’s also hiding a big secret from her best friend; she has epilepsy. And on the night Tress’s parents go missing, Felicity is about to have a seizure. She’s under strict instructions from her mother to never let anyone see her like that (she’ll never be able to marry if someone knows), and so they drive her home in the middle of the night. Except, there’s an accident and Tress’s parents are never seen again. This event orphans Tress, changing her life for the worse in many ways. Felicity cannot remember anything that happened that night, and the investigation into Tress’s parents’ disappearance is non-existent. The two try to remain friends, but the politics of small towns get in the way, especially now that Tress is living on her grandfather’s “white trash zoo” in a dirty trailer, in hand me down clothes, and with a parental figure who wants nothing to do with her. Tress’s decision to exact the real truth from Felicity is born from years of anger and hurt. As the two girls are faced with talking to each other for real, for the first time in years, the reader gets glimpses into their past and their complicated history.
There is so much more going on in this story than a basic revenge plot. The sub-text of what it means to be a woman, especially growing up in this town, reminds me of Female of the Species. The minor characters (Hugh & Ribbit - I listened to this, so not sure of the spelling) are equally fascinating and layered. Teenage drinking, drugs, bullying, and violence make this a good choice for a teen reader prepared for such things. Did I mention that a black panter from her grandfather’s zoo is on the loose, too, AND it gets its own POV? That, along with a flu epidemic, I’m really wondering if quarantine and Tiger King had something to do with this book being written ;). Whatever the impetus to write it- I’m here for it, and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of my students!
Thanks to Libro.fm for the freebie! Brittany Pressley (one of my favs), Lisa Flanagan, and Tim Campbell round out the audio cast.
Mindy McGinnis at West High back in 2018, promoting Female of the Species and A Madness So Discreet.