The Smaller Evil Review

I had just finished the series The Path on Hulu when I picked up this book.

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I have always been fascinated with cults. From Charles Manson to the Branch Davidians cult, what drives their purpose? Are they truly insane or do they really believe in what they do.

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I love when books dive into the dark corners of the mind and some sinister things wait there. Let’s take a look at this psychological thriller The Smaller Evil.


  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (August 2, 2016)

17-year-old Arman Dukoff can’t remember life without anxiety and chronic illness wpathhen 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.

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Tawney’s Review:   This was a mind boggling book that left me confused and maybe that’s why I liked it. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it. I knew it was a psychological book, which are the books I LOVE.

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Amran, our main character, heads to a week long retreat to overcome certain problems or as the retreat emphasizes to evolve.  He was a paranoid high anxiety teen that comes from a troubled home, which makes him a perfect candidate for this retreat. The problem with Arman was that he saw himself as a useless person and that was his weakness. He gets taken advantage of and influenced heavily, especially by the leader Beau.

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When Beau disappeared everyone tells Amran different things of what could have happened. As Arman tries to decipher what’s true and not, we were right there with him on a thrilling ride while he tried to uncover the truth.

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This book was very unique and bizarre. The cult like retreat was interesting and Kuehn weaved the mystery together with powerful description and words. I was engaged throughout the entire book though sometimes a bit confused, especially at the end. And I think that was what frustrated some readers but I loved it. I am partial to books when authors leave the ending hanging for the readers to decipher on their own. It also doesn’t have the feel of a YA book. It was so much more psychological, digging deep into the mind with dark twists, that some teens may not take to it.

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Should you read it? Yes! This book was mind bending and engaging. If you like Inception and Gone Girl this book is for you.

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Thank you Penguin Young Readers for this book in exchange for an honest review!


About the Author:

IMG_1740highresBWStephanie Kuehn holds degrees in linguistics and sport psychology, as well as a doctorate in clinical psychology. Her debut young adult novel, CHARM & STRANGE, was the winner of the 2014 William C. Morris Award, and her second novel for teens, COMPLICIT, was named to YALSA’s 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults list. Stephanie was also awarded the 2015 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for her forthcoming novel, THE SMALLER EVIL and her most recent book, DELICATE MONSTERS, won the 2016 Northern California Book Award.Stephanie lives in Northern California with her husband, their three children, and a joyful abundance of pets.

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3 thoughts on “The Smaller Evil Review

  1. I just started watching The Path, it’s so good 🙂 this book sounds pretty interesting too. I know it’s on my sisters TBR I just never got to reading what it’s about. It sounds goof!

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