READ THE COMPLETE AND ORIGINAL REVIEW (AND MANY MORE) AT WORD SPELUNKINGThis is a tough review for me to write, simply because I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I walked away from HUSHED conflicted, and not for the reasons you may think. With such a dark premise and an emotionally charged story dealing with murder, rape, and abuse you’d think my confliction came from the subject matter itself. But it doesn’t. Yes, the premise is intensely dark and the subject matter provocative, but author Kelley York has done a stunning job of taking this premise and its subject matter and writing a story that is heart-achingly beautiful, thought-provoking, and deeply meaningful. No, I think my confliction comes from the characters, but more on that in bit… THE STORYAs I stated above, HUSHED is incredibly thought-provoking. This is a book that will leave you reeling and desperately needing to talk about it. Archer’s story is shocking, heartbreaking, romantic, hopeful, scary…I think every emotion I could possibly produce was evoked at some point while reading this book. This book will have you asking yourself Would I? Could I? How far would I be willing to go? Just…what if?I always like and appreciate when an author isn’t afraid to Go There, and York definitely Goes There and then goes a bit farther. Nothing is held back and the gritty realism may not always be easy to stomach, but it is always necessary. One thing in particular that I found impressive, was that every character; every storyline; every event had a purpose, a necessary purpose. York never put in a shocking/intimate/intense/unexpected scene simply for the shock value. Although, with that being said, I do think some parts of the book dragged a bit and could have been condensed and still conveyed what they needed to.This is an emotionally charged story, so the handling of these emotions had to be done delicately and in a way that wasn’t too much or too little, and York accomplishes this really well. It’s no easy task to make readers sympathetic toward a murderous character, but York does this with Archer. York really places readers into the mindset of each character, stripping away their defenses and baring their emotions, thought processes, and secrets. Yet, York never writes in a way that makes you feel like you’re supposed to feel a certain way about a character or his/her actions. The characters’ emotions, thoughts, and truths are laid out for readers to accept, reject, understand, and comprehend in their own ways.There are definitely enough twists and turns to keep you captivated, but the climax was easy to see coming. But, that doesn’t mean the ending wasn’t satisfying, because it is. RELATIONSHIPSRelationships play an important role in this book, especially Archer and Vivian’s relationship and Archer and Evan’s relationship.Archer and Vivian’s friendship is a twisted, unhealthy one. Archer has always been in love with Vivian and she has always used and manipulated him, a truth that Archer is well aware of. Yet, he can’t walk away from her. Archer’s longing for and pain caused by Vivian is palpable. With this friendship, York gives readers a very honest look at the lasting effects of abuse, the often depilating nature of co-dependency, and the power of guilt.Archer and Evan’s relationship is the opposite of Archer and Vivian’s. Evan is the first person who has ever truly cared for Archer without expecting or wanting anything in return. There’s a real sweetness to their friendship and eventual romantic relationship, but there’s also a breathtaking intensity to it as well. This is a very well written and executed romantic relationship.One of things I really liked is the fact that Archer’s hesitation toward his feelings for Evan never really comes from the fact that they are both guys, even though Archer has never been in a relationship with another guy before. York has explored the scary, exciting, awkward, intense nature of falling in love without focusing on the topic of sexual orientation, which I found really refreshing and kind of beautiful.CHARACTERSAnd this is where my confliction comes from. York has created very compelling, realistic, intriguing characters, yet I failed to connect with any of them. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like any of them or didn’t find them interesting, because I did. I simply did not feel attached to any of them by the end of the book.Archer is the main character and the main source of my confliction. I get his character and throughout the book I liked him more than I didn’t like him. I found myself sympathetic toward him and understanding of his actions, even his murderous ones, but I never felt myself become truly invested in his story or his fate. Sure, I was eager to see how his story played out and what, exactly, his fate would come to, but by the end of the book, I didn’t actually care one way or another whether he lived or died, was caught or remained free.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I think my confliction about this book comes from the fact that I walked away from it really liking the story, but not finding the characters terribly memorable or overly enjoyable. Which for me, is kind of conflicting in itself because I’ve always believed that the characters are what make or break a book. Yet, with HUSHED, the overall story, emotional elements, and writing make up for my lack of connection with its characters. And it’s the story itself that makes this a book that should be read.