Book Talk: Goodman, ‘They’ll Never Catch Us’

“Look at you,” Dad says. “I swear you’re all muscle these days.” Dad could have been addressing either of his daughters, Stella and Ellie Steckler. They’re both top-notch high-school cross-country runners in Edgewater, NY, at the base of the Catskill Mountains. Stella is 14 months older than Ellie, and she’s recently returned from Breakridge Elite Track and Field Center which is also a summer camp for anger management. She was destined for an athletic scholarship to Georgetown University before the incident happened last semester.


Stella and Ellie alternate as narrators of the story. In Ellie’s first chapter, she says, “Last year, the possibilities seemed endless. But after Stella got herself labeled as violent and unreliable, everything changed. Now that I’m a sophomore, the scouts will start looking, and I have to be the one to win the scholarship, to get that full ride Stella had already secured.” However, Ellie had her own “incident” over the summer, but no one knows about it.


When fall semester starts, there’s a new girl on the cross-country team, Mila Keene, and Mila was the top runner last year in Connecticut. How the girls interact with Mila shows the reader the differences between the Steckler Sisters. Stella is sarcastic, single-minded, standoffish, and prefers to keep to herself. Ellie is friendly, open, and accommodating. She has friends, goes to parties, and has a life off the course. Although both Stella and Ellie see Mila as a threat to their escaping the smothering milieu of Edgewater via scholarships, it is Ellie who is drawn to Mila’s inviting personality.


Ellie’s best friend moved away and her boyfriend, Noah, has betrayed her. However, to Noah, Ellie was just a summer fling because his real girlfriend is Tamara, whose father has a lot of pull at Princeton University, and Noah needs to stay in his good graces because he desperately needs to get accepted to the Ivy-League school in New Jersey.


In “They’ll Never Catch Us” (2021, 330 pages), Jessica Goodman exploits these aspirations that drive the young people to incredible lengths. The writing in this novel, her second, is just as engrossing as it was in her debut work, “They Wish They Were Us,” which I reviewed in the August 17, 2022, issue of the Tribune. It seems trite to say that this is a novel that you simply can’t put down. The truth is that I finished it at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning after reading all Saturday night and through the wee hours.


Perhaps Goodman’s skill is due to her day job as op-ed editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. She writes murder mystery without the gristle. We know that there have been multiple murders in Edgewater, but we don’t see the bodies piling up. We also know that there is another murder in the offing, and we suspect who the killer might be. But we’d probably lose that bet. If fact, we’re hardly aware of the twist at the end until we’re partway through it.


I already have Goodman’s third novel. It’s on my TBR stack, and I’ll definitely review it in a future column. Meanwhile, I recommend this book. Technically, I suppose it’s YA, but it’s great for any age group that can handle current teen language, slang as well as profanity, that may disturb some senior readers.


Enjoy.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.