Rating: 4 / 5
Lily Hayes has been spending a semester abroad in Buenos Aires when she is charged with the murder of her roommate, Katy Kellers. Lily claims that she is innocent, and found Katy murdered in their shared home, but her actions in the aftermath of the murder are more aligned with how a guilty person would act. At the least, she does not appear saddened or traumatized over the death of her roommate.
To the public and the prosecutor, Lily comes off as aloof, uncaring, and unburdened by Katy’s death. Lily’s parents and younger sister cannot fathom Lily murdering anyone, after all, she is only a college student with big dreams. Lily is a fascinating character, though not particularly likable and someone that other young women might not see in themselves, but surely their parents do. Lily has grown up in a squarely middle to upper class family, and has never really struggled in life. She had a sister, Janie, who died before Lily was born, and because of that, Lily and her younger sister Anna have had a pretty easy life, at times taking advantage of the guilt their parents harbor over losing Janie. Lily has the attitude of a young adult just coming into the world thinking it is theirs to conquer; at times she seems upset over the lack of hardship and challenges in her life since it makes her feel like she is not living life fully.
Although Cartwheel is loosely based on the Amanda Knox case, the novel does not focus on the action and events, but rather Lily’s character and the perspective of her from those closest to the case. The driving force behind Cartwheel is Lily herself, and what makes the novel compelling is the changing perception of her guilt or innocence. To her parents, Lily is naive, innocent, and immature, but certainly not a killer; the prosecution and the media portray her as someone who is calculating, cold, and driven by jealousy. While Lily is a combination of both, it is interesting to see how the facts of the case are trumped by the portrayal of the accused.