Reviewed by Amy M. Leibowitz
Synopsis: Corinna “Corey” Nguyen’s life seems perfectly average for a closeted bisexual whiz kid with her eyes on college and a budding romance with her friend Kate. Sixteen and navigating senior year with her tight-knit group of best friends through crushes, breakups, and pregnancy scares, Corey mistakenly believes that running for valedictorian and choosing the right college are the worst of her worries. That is, until prom night, when she’s left alone and in shock, hiding inside a diner restroom, the only witness to a multiple homicide.
With graduation looming, the pressure is on for Corey to identify the killer and ensure that the crime that has changed her life forever will not go unpunished.
Review: Anyone looking for a terrific combination of coming of age, coming out and young adult thriller should search no further. This smart, engaging story is one of the best young adult novels I’ve read in a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so fast cover to cover in my life. I couldn’t put this down; it held my interest, page after page.
“Out of order” is a reference both to the tragic prom night incident and to the unusual timeline of the story. It’s entirely told in flashbacks which flow not chronologically but in order of relevance to advancing the plot. At first, the story reads backwards from graduation, but over the course of the narrative, the scenes skip around in time. Each section flows from a memory or reference related to the previous section. Rather than being confusing, it works well with regard to finding small clues hidden in each section and understanding the motives of the characters.
Corey Nguyen, the hero and first-person narrator, is refreshingly different from many adolescent characters. She is complex and interesting, one of the best young narrators I’ve read in a long time. Neither self-absorbed and unsympathetic nor entirely a victim of her circumstances, she is realistic and well-drawn. Her own choices have repercussions, yet it’s easy to see how she becomes caught up in the situation with her friend and crush, Kate. Through her eyes, we see her friends as ordinary teenagers navigating the complicated arenas of friendship, dating and leaving childhood behind.
What I particularly appreciate about Corey is that she never feels the need to “prove” her bisexuality. Although she is coming to terms with her identity and working out how that might look for her, she doesn’t detail for us all her past relationships and crushes so readers will see her as genuine. She doesn’t date multiple people within the text, nor does she use her budding romance with Kate as proof of her legitimacy. It is exactly what it should be, an adolescent exploration of their feelings for each other. Although the love story plays a factor in the choices Corey and Kate make, it is not the central plot. This is by no means a young adult romance novel.
At its core, this story is less about one individual’s identity and more about how the choices we make have lasting ripple effects. The conclusion of the novel does not provide easy answers to the complex questions raised. The characters are neither condemned nor absolved for their actions. Instead, both they and the reader are left wondering where we go from here, which is ultimately the real decision any adolescent faces on the cusp of adulthood. Although there is no clear resolution, the end of the story is still satisfying, leaving us to hope for better things to come for Corey.
It can be difficult to find LGBTQ+ literature which will appeal to a wider audience, often because characters are reduced to romantic relationships and inventories of who they are sleeping with. In Out of Order, Casey Lawrence has crafted a tale with far greater appeal. The book would be a welcome addition to any school library. This is a fantastic novel, and there is no doubt I will be sharing it with my kids when they’re old enough to understand the themes and content. It receives five stars from me and my highest recommendation.
Amy M. Leibowitz is a queer writer falling somewhere on the Geek-Nerd Spectrum. When not spending time with her spouse and kids, she works as a freelance editor, book blogger and author of LGBTQ+ fiction.