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Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Amanda Knox

I don’t watch a lot of TV, especially not TV news or TV tabloids, so while I feel confident that I had heard something about Amanda Knox in the past six years, I really only became aware of the ins and outs of her infamous life this year.  But when I did become aware, it was all at once–a chapter in the book Math on Trial by Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez (Basic, 2013); a lengthy review of her memoir in The New York Review of Books; and then the two reviews from our reviewer in today’s post, one of Knox’s memoir, the other of a fictionalized account of her life.

For those of you (like me six months ago) unaware of the facts of Knox’s case, I’ll go ahead and lead off our review of her memoir:

KNOX, Amanda. Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir. 480p. HarperCollins. 2013. Tr $28.99. ISBN 9780062217202; pap. $28.99. ISBN 978-0062223265; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780062217226.

Adult/High School–In 2007, Amanda Knox was studying abroad in the small town of Perugia, Italy, when she was arrested for the brutal murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Rumors that Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, killed Kercher as part of a depraved sex game were rampant, vying with the couple’s wholesome appearance. To make things worse, Knox’s initial statements to the police were confused and contradictory. Both she and Sollecito were imprisoned. In this memoir, intended to defend herself against the court of public opinion, Knox claims that these contradictions were because she could not remember the night Kercher was killed. She paid dearly for the memory lapse. Her behavior was consistently presented as suspicious. Frivolous behavior at a time of gravity made up for a lack of concrete evidence. To some, this beautiful, sweet-faced young woman displayed a disturbing lack of emotion throughout her trials. But Knox’s writing here is filled with emotion. While acknowledging that she made mistakes, she  stresses that she was an immature, naïve, 20-year-old American girl and protests that many of her blunders were due to cultural misinterpretations or to the manipulations of the Italian prosecutors. Armchair detectives will find it difficult not to sympathize with Knox. She writes with intelligence and passion. Nevertheless, she leaves out details that reflect badly on her judgment. And there remains a disturbing lack of clarity to her memories of the night of Kercher’s murder. For readers following this very current story in the news, Knox’s memoir is a must-read.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

The entire business was a mess from the beginning, made even more so when the DNA of a man named Rudy Guede was found all over the murder scene.  He confessed to the murder, and Knox writes that she was certain that she would be freed.  But despite the contradictory evidence, on December 4, 2009, after two years in prison, Knox and Sollecito were found guilty. Knox was sentenced to twenty-six years in prison; Sollecito was sentenced to twenty-five. Miraculously, it seemed to Knox, both of them were acquitted on appeal in October, 2011, and Knox returned home.

With both victim and suspect being attractive young women, it was pretty predictable that the press would be all over this case and they have indeed analyzed it from every angle imaginable.  Wikipedia lists nine separate documentaries about the case, and that doesn’t include the 2011 Lifetime movie version of the case, starring Hayden Panettierre as Knox.

There are copious print accounts as well.  Her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito wrote Honor Bound: My Journal to Hell and Back with Amanda Knox, co-written with Andrew Gumbel (Gallery Books, 2012.) His account, although it basically supports Knox’s, differs in some details. For example, Sollecito recollects some of Knox’s frustratingly bizarre actions that reflected poorly on them both. Among these are a time at the police station, when a passing Chief Inspector, “…described her shock at walking by and seeing Amanda doing cartwheels and splits.” (p54-55).  Sollecito and Knox had only been together one week before the murder. Looking back, Sollecito regrets kissing and cuddling with Knox just hours after the murder, in plain view of shocked bystanders. Nevertheless, the two emerged from their ordeal as friends, older, sadder, and certainly much wiser.

There are numerous third person accounts of Meredith Kercher’s murder as well. Books and documentaries have weighed in on Knox’s guilt or innocence. It can be a bit addictive noting the differences between all these points of view, like watching Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Barbie Latza Nadeau’s book Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox , (Beast Books, 2010), considered by some to be prejudiced against Knox, and that of Nina Burleigh, a “pro-Knox” commentator, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox (Broadway Books, 2011), could hardly be more polarized. (Both, however, mention Knox’s cartwheel at the police station).

And that cartwheel, which Knox never mentions in her own memoir, serves as the title of Jennifer DuBois’s fictional account of the case:

DUBOIS, Jennifer. Cartwheel. 326p. Random. 2013. Tr $26. ISBN 9780812995862. LC 2013016952.

Adult/High School–“Privileged” is one word used to describe 20-year-old Lily Hayes. But there are other words, such as, “weird,” “gorgeous,” and “sociopath.” Bursting with zealous opinions and an eagerness for adventure, Lily takes the road less traveled and spends a semester in Buenos Aires. Her roommate is beautiful Katy Kellers, who is a bit boring in Lily’s opinion. But she swears she did not murder Katy, even if Katy was sleeping with Lily’s sort-of boyfriend; even if Lily suspects that Katy may be turning others against her. After all, it was Lily who found Katy’s bloody corpse, who tried to give her CPR, who ran screaming to the house next door for help. This is all damning evidence according to Argentinian law officials, led by prosecutor Eduardo Campos. Lily is thrown into prison while Eduardo carefully builds a case. It is Lily, however, who delivers the greatest evidence against herself by inexplicably turning a cartwheel in an empty interrogation room, witnessed by a security camera. If this is sounding familiar, it’s because the novel is based on the infamous case against American exchange student Amanda Knox, charged with murdering her roommate in Italy. Cartwheel avoids sensationalism and instead delves deeply into the psychological underpinnings of the story. Everyone involved is interpreting events through filters such as cultural biases, personal traumas, and wishful thinking. Where, in all of this, is truth to be found? Teens looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful drama should probably pass on this one. But readers who are fascinated by well-written psychological studies, such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, will appreciate the insight and depth of this novel.–Diane Colson, formerly at Palm Harbor Library, FL

The most recent wrinkle in Knox’s case came after book DuBois’s book or Knox’s memoir were written. Earlier this year, just before the release of Knox’s memoir, an Italian court overruled the acquittal of 2011, which means that once again Knox and Sollecito will stand trial for murder. This third trial began on September 30, 2013 and is currently ongoing. In spite of all that has already been written, recorded, and judged, the story is not over yet.

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark


  1. Elizabeth Burns says:

    I just wanted to point out, regarding the retrial, that this is Italian law. So what we think of as an appeal and retrial is not the same as what is going on here. As is addressed briefly in this one post from Duqesne Law School, in the US what has happened would be considered double jeopardy. (tho it’s really hard to make exact parallels because the legal system is that different.)

  2. The cartwheel was not the only thing that Amanda Knox left out of her book. For anyone who thought Waiting to be Heard was a good read I would suggest that they devote the same amount of time to reading translated court documents. It will give you a very different and more accurate picture of Knox. It will also help you understand why Knox will be back in prision by the end of 2014.