THE CRUELTY - by Scott Bergstrom

THE CRUELTY - Scott Bergstrom
Published: 2017 - by Walker Books.
Pages: 448.
Genres: Young adult / thriller / contemporary
Source: Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

When Gwendolyn Bloom realizes that her father has been kidnapped, she has to take matters into her own hands. She traces him from New York City across the dark underbelly of Europe, taking on a new identity to survive in a world of brutal criminal masterminds. As she slowly leaves behind her schoolgirl self, she realizes that she must learn the terrifying truth about herself. To overcome the cruelty she encounters, she must also embrace it.

I buddy-read The Cruelty with the lovely Melleny from ABookTropolis. We had such fun chatting about the book, even if we were disappointed by it.
Check out her review HERE!

I was so excited to read this book. I love thrillers, and an YA thriller with a badass teenage heroine on a mission to save her father seemed absolutely perfect.
Instead, I was left disappointed and conflicted.

But I did love the writing. It's dramatic, crisp, and flows smoothly. The descriptions are incredibly detailed and vivid, and the atmosphere and visual structure of every scene is strong.
The dialogue's also good. Not brilliant, but it's taut and crackling, fits the tone, and gives many of the secondary characters a distinct voice.
The book's not cheesy or clich├ęd, another thing I loved. There isn't any extreme melodrama or "purely for ego" statements. I think that's rare in YA thrillers.

The story is disappointing and random. There aren't any mind-blowing twists, and there are too many random incidents that don't serve a big enough purpose in the overarching plot. It's also very hard to suspend disbelief for what happens in the story; it's written so naturally, though, that it's bearable, but if you distance yourself from the writing then the story begs questions. It almost works, but looking at it now (having finished it about four days ago) I'm left feeling shallow and highly sceptical.

The plot also drags a lot. There's so much detail, but most of those details - and even most of the incidents in the story - don't lead to bigger things. I personally think that if you're writing a thriller, you can't afford to waste time on fluff and casual "fun stuff"; you're expected to deliver on the number of details you include in the story. You can get away with it in another genre, but not in a thriller/mystery.

“I run until the blind rage has washed me clean, rid me of hope. And for the first time, on this afternoon alive with neon signs and stars, I leave my heart open to the benign indifference of the world.”

Gwendoline is a boring heroine. She starts off with promise, but she's written so emotionally disconnected from the story that it's impossible to feel for her and her father. Considering what she undertakes and what she sees, I expected to feel something for her, and if not her then the poor people she encounters. But no, the writing didn't give me anything to work with and I couldn't sympathise with her. It's utterly vapid.
But it's not just the emotional aspect (lack of one...) that makes Gwen so bland. It's her lack of personality. She has no real hobbies, no interests, and her character isn't rounded.  The most interesting person in the book is actually Marina, a prostitute Gwen meets on her journey. At least Marina comes across vivid and three-dimensional.

Another irritating thing about the book is the author's apparent obsession with body image. A number of times when a new character is introduced, his or her looks are emphasised as their defining feature. I found that meaningless. There's more to a person than looks, and frankly I care more about a person's characteristics than whether he or she is attractive.
Then there's the subject matter of the story: sex trafficking. And I don't think the author executed that well at all. It didn't come across like it had been well researched, and it felt glamorised and too "Hollywood-ish". That one scene where Gwen sees the girls imprisoned and shoved around by the men comes across romanticised; not to mention the emotional aspect isn't strong, either, so that doesn't help.
It didn't sit well with me at all.

The Cruelty is a poorly plotted, disengaged thriller with scant characterization. The writing isn't bad and I actually liked it, but the story and characters need help. And the messages coming across are certainly questionable.


  1. Sorry to hear this was disappointing. I agree the premise sounds promising, a girl after her father (and in europe) but the characterization issues, not to mention the way the trafficking was handled- yeah that's not good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as this is one I might have been curious about if I'd stumbled on it.

    1. Thanks Greg :)
      Yeah, true. So it was really disappointing :(