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The Smaller Evil

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Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.
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.

From Publishers Weekly

May 23, 2016 – With his drug-addicted father in and out of jail and his neglectful mother wishing him out of the house, 17-year-old Arman seeks solace and guidance in Beau, a charismatic adult who promises a way to free Arman from his feelings of inadequacy. Arman joins Kira, a fellow classmate, and Dale, her boyfriend, on a retreat with Beau. Instead of the campsite expected, the three find themselves on the Evolve compound, a center of more than 100 devotees committed to uncovering their truest selves through exercises that challenge their abilities and memories. When the compound's leader disappears and factions within the camp turn ugly, Arman, Kira, and Dale must decide whether they are being manipulated and how to escape. Balancing Arman's experience with Beau's inner thoughts, Kuehn (Delicate Monsters) elevates the religious cult novel with this sophisticated psychological mystery centered on the concept of the double effect that the "greater good outweighs the smaller evil." Though certain characters are more archetypal than three-dimensional, the book's philosophical undertones and uncertain ending are transfixing. Ages 14 up.

Customer Reviews

I just don’t GET it

I received an ARC of this book from Penguin First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

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.

The Smaller Evil
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  • $10.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Coming of Age
  • Published: Aug 02, 2016
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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