17-year-old Arman Dukoff can't remember life without anxiety and chronic illness when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to "evolve," as Beau, the retreat leader, says.
Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman's not sure, but more than anyone he's ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.
The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he's failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.
And then, in an instant Arman can't believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.
As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he's always trusted the least: himself.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||593 KB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
An Excerpt from The Smaller Evil
“You have to stop hurting yourself,” Beau said softly.
“I mean it. You’ve been taught to turn your pain inward. But that’s wrong. It’s sick. Do you understand me?”
Arman nodded. “I . . . I think so.”
“No!” Beau hissed. “That’s your whole damn problem, thinking. Ever since the day we met, you’ve told me what you think about things. But you don’t feel and you don’t do. Not in any meaningful way. Feeling and doing, they’re more important than the thoughts inside your head. They’re our primary channels to health. To immunity.”
“Huh?” Arman shivered. He couldn’t even pretend to comprehend what was going on.
Beau sighed. “Do you take care of yourself by thinking about exercising? Or by actually exercising?”
“And does thinking about, say, sex keep you from wanting it? Or do you find you’re driven to satisfy your desires in more physical ways?”
At this, a great roar of laughter rose up behind him, and Arman longed to melt. Or evaporate. Did everyone know about him and the cook? That’s what it felt like. But he managed to answer, “I . . . satisfy my desires.”
“I would hope so,” Beau said smoothly. “So when I say that you need to express your pain externally, what is it that you need to do?”
“I need to do it.”
“That’s right.” A look of approval crossed Beau’s face, and seeing this calmed Arman. It reassured him that he was saying the right things and doing what was expected of him. It also gave him hope this ordeal would soon be over. He watched eagerly as Beau rolled his own shirtsleeves up, exposing the smooth skin of his forearms. Then Beau pulled something from the side pocket of his pants. He worked hard to pry whatever it was open before dropping it right in the center of Arman’s palm.
Gasps came from the surrounding circle, and Arman stared, disbelieving. It was a knife. Beau had given him a pocketknife. A strange-looking one, with a rosewood handle and an ornate type of blade Arman had never seen before. Rather than a solid steel color, this blade was a dramatic mix of light and dark, of everything in between. Streaks of grays and blacks covered the entire surface—a gleaming feat of metallurgy that worked to form a distinctive pattern of whorls and loops. Like a fingerprint.
“My grandfather made it,” Beau said. “It’s a Damascus. Truly one of a kind.”
Arman said nothing. He just kept staring at the blade.
Then he looked at Beau’s outstretched, unscarred arms. Like an offering.
“Wait a minute,” Arman said slowly, shaking his head. “No. No, I won’t do that. Of course not. I won’t hurt you.”
“Yes, you will. You’ll do it now. Go on.”
Arman swallowed hard. His trembling hand closed around the knife’s hilt. It was heavier than he’d realized, and it was nothing for him to let the weight of the decorative blade tip down to rest against Beau’s soft wrist. He glanced up.
“I can’t do this,” he said.
“You can. You will.”
Arman nodded. Held his breath. Then he began pressing down on the blade. Slowly. Very slowly. Until pop! The skin gave. A dot of red appeared. The smallest mark. He quickly looked at Beau again. He wanted approval. He wanted to be told to stop.
“Deeper.” Beau fixed his calm river-pebble gaze on him. “As deep as you can go. To the bone.”
“What?” Arman yanked his hand back. “No!”
“You said you wanted to heal.”
“Yeah, but not like this. This isn’t healing. It’s gross.”
“Are you sure, Arman? Or is that just what you think?”
Was this really happening? “I’m sure I think it’s true.”
Beau bent forward then, lowering his voice to a whisper, making it a moment just between them. “Maybe the truth is that you don’t know what healing looks like. Maybe nothing you know is as it seems.”
“And why would that be?”
“Because you’re here. Because you can’t see the truth from where you’re standing. Because you’re like a dog chasing a squirrel as it runs around a tree. You don’t realize you could catch the damn thing if you just stood still.”
Thick and heavy, Arman’s nausea had returned to roost. “So what? I’m just supposed to do something I don’t want to do because you think I should?”
“Alia tentanda via est. That’s our motto here.”
“I don’t even know what that means!”
“It means ‘another way must be tried.’”
Of course it did. And of course Arman understood. This was the moment he was meant to crack. This was the moment that he was meant to see the error of his ways and demonstrate that his disgust and self-loathing were far better off directed at the people in his life who’d actually caused him pain.
The thing was Arman didn’t see it that way. The truth of who he was and why was so much more complicated than that. The swipe of a sword at a self-appointed father figure couldn’t begin to bear that burden.
Besides, what Beau was asking him to do, well, it was wrong.
It wasn’t right.
So Arman gripped the knife, as tight as he could, and with a snarl, he flung the weapon out of the circle. It arced high in the night air, spinning end over end, before tumbling over the edge of the ravine to vanish into the blackness.
“No,” he told Beau again. “I won’t do that.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of those novels that presents itself as one thing and then takes a turn and becomes something else. The novel itself has a frame narrative, one story within another and until the end it’s unclear how the two stories are going to interact with one another, how they play off each other. And yet, they play off each other perfectly, creating tension and wonder for the reader and making the reader wonder just what is going on within the confines of the story, especially once things take a left turn. Kuehn tricks the reader, she lures them into a false sense of security about the story, misleading them with cleverly directed and written misdirection that brings about this whole different side of the story and the characters. Situations are rapidly escalating and changing more than Arman is ever used to and it elevates the story, it develops this character who is helping himself by growing and changing, even when it seems like he isn’t. And it doesn’t just happen. The story moves quickly, but by paying attention the reader can see the slow changes in the main character. The reader is able to understand and see where the character is coming from. Moreover, the frame narrative and the way that Kuehn employs the functionality of narrative makes for great reading. It’s brilliantly written and gives the reader a fresh look at a well done frame narrative where there are two stories, one that is independent and one that relies on the other strongly yet also takes on the point of view that is almost second-person. So the reader is not only drawn in on the premise but is also inserted into the story by the writer. The Smaller Evil is a thrilling novel that takes the most unexpected ride as it draws the reader in chapter by chapter leading them to final mind blowing ending that no one could have seen coming. (★★★★☆ | A)
This was…. a strange book. I want to like it, but ultimately, I just don’t get it. What was the point? Arman is kind of an outcast. He doesn’t fit in, he’s on all kinds of medications for ADD and anxiety whatnot. He meets this guy, Beau, who invites him to a “retreat”. A couple of sort-of friends come along as well, but otherwise it’s mostly old people. Then Beau is murdered. Or kills himself. Or maybe he didn’t and Arman is just crazy. Now we spend half the book not sure what is real and what is not, and this is actually very cool. But… the end comes along and we’re left with more questions than answers. I think people who like really philosophical mind bending books might be into this, but it was just too weird for me. Maybe reading it a second time knowing the ending would give more clues as to what the hell is actually happening in the earlier parts of the book, but I’m not going to waste my time doing that. I honestly only grabbed this book because I was pretty sure the “retreat” was really a cult (and it basically is) and that sort of fascinates me. In the end though, I wish I hadn’t bothered. I wasn’t left satisfied and I still don’t feel like I really know any of the characters. I just don’t understand what the point of the story was. Not that every story needs to end with an earth shattering, mind opening purpose—I enjoy fluffy books as much as the next reader—but, at least knowing what the hell actually happened is sort of a must for me. So would I recommend this book? No. Not really. There were some good parts, but overall I was left underwhelmed and without a sense of closure. I received an ARC of this book from Penguin First Reads in exchange for an honest review.
I really don’t know what to think of this book. It wasn’t bad though. I just don’t think I really got what the book was about. It was weird, mind boggling, and an okay book. I was a little lost in some places, confused at best. It read pretty easy, but it was a slow process. I really did like it towards the last half of the book. I didn’t really care for Arman. I found him to be pitiful and odd. I still don’t understand why things went the way they did for him to understand. ‘Going around your a*s to get to your elbow’ is the southern saying that comes to my mind when I think of the reasoning. Was it interesting? Yes it was. Was it a crazy way of showing it? Yes it was. This was my process of reading: Okay. Okay. Woah, that was fast. Okay. Okay. Who’s random thoughts are these? Okay. Okay. Again? Okay. OMG what happened!?! Okay. I’m confused now. Okay. Okay. This is getting weird. Okay. Okay. Interesting. Okay. I know who’s thoughts these are now. Okay. Okay. Wait…what? Did he really do it? Okay. Wait, what the heck. Okay. That was a crazy ride. *I received this through Penguin’s first to read