Review: WHAT BEAUTY THERE IS by Cory Anderson (2021)

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Thriller
Year Release: 2021
Source: Library Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warning: Hanging, drug-related crimes and violence, meth, poverty, violence against children, emotional abuse, blood, death of mothers

This contemporary thriller follows brothers Jack and Matty, whose father is in jail and her mother had just died by suicide. With funds dwindling, older brother Jack choose money to keep himself and his brother out of the foster care system. Except for the fact that a scoundrel named Bardem chases after them. A detective also tries to make heads and tails of the trail of bodies, but everyone is hardly a half-step ahead of the others.

A book that makes great use of its wintery setting in theme and tone, this tale of brothers tugs at the heartstrings something fierce as they rely on each other and another fellow child to make it to the other side.


This book is as brutal as its prose is beautiful. There were times I had to pause the audiobook because a line or a turn of phrase stopped me in its place. Or, in the opposite direction, some absolutely bananas turn comes out and the reader scrambles as much as the characters to figure out the next step. It works on a character and plot-level. With break-neck pacing and deliberate pauses for character development, Anderson shows deft guidance but also lets the reader experience this fraught journey.

While Jack wears his heart on his sleeve, Ava is a mystery that slowly unravels. We know from her introduction that Bardem is her father, and he raised her to be as closed-off from the goodness in the world as he is. This book toes the line between survival and cruelty, especially in her POV. She could have abandoned the brothers at any turn, but stays to help. The tension can be cut with a knife. But there is so much tenderness, of kids recognizing the hurt in each other. It’s so beautifully done, it hurts.

For those who need it, there is a puppy in the final act, and he makes it to the end.

One thought on “Review: WHAT BEAUTY THERE IS by Cory Anderson (2021)

  1. Pingback: May 2021 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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