cover image The Smaller Evil

The Smaller Evil

Stephanie Kuehn. Dutton, $17.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-99470-2

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. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Aug.)