You Know What You Have to Do

Book review by
Joe Applegate, Common Sense Media
You Know What You Have to Do Book Poster Image
Ambivalent take on teen who commits murders.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain, not educate.

Positive Messages

The conflict between Maggie's conscience and the evil voice in her head begins to be resolved when Maggie decides to visit her father, long imprisoned for murdering his mother. She has to find out why he did it. Confronting evil takes courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maggie's stepfather, Harry, sets an example of good behavior, a constant and kind presence in her life. But he has no significant action in the story.

Violence

Maggie's killings are bloodless. She sets fire to the room where someone has passsed out, she pushes a person off a cliff, and cracks someone over the head with a stone-laden handbag. 

Sex

Maggie gets smash-kissed and pawed on a first date. She fights the boy off and calls for a ride home. A sex party is mentioned in a letter from a friend. 

Language

The voice in Maggie's head once says "s--t."

Consumerism

A few brand names pop up to make the setting in upstate New York more real: Price Chopper, Stewart's.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some beer is consumed at a frat party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that You Know What You Have to Do is a muddled story about a teen who obeys an inner voice commanding her to murder an abusive alcoholic and two savage bullies to satisfy her sense of justice. (The murders are violent but bloodless.) Maggie has nightmares and berates herself for being heartless, but is careful to hide the truth. Murder has no effect on Maggie's constant wisecracking about her mom and other topics of teen angst. The author creates a sympathetic character who can't help killing people. The novel presents the horror of a killer who blends in perfectly, but also trivializes the killer and her victims.

 

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What's the story?

Maggie can't ignore the voice in her head that tells her to kill one bad person after another: the abusive father of her best friend, a hunter who threatens her dog, a bully who picks on a little girl. When two of Maggie's crimes are witnessed by other kids, they have to be dealth with too. Insight into her family's past -- someone else heard the same voice -- and the loss of a loved one nudge Maggie, in the end, toward redemption. But the voice doesn't go away.

Is it any good?

Creating a serial killer with such typical teen problems as a clueless mom and a bonehead boyfriend takes more doing than this award-winning author has come up with. Characters drop into the story as if lowered by ropes to satisfy turns in the plot. The crime scenes are strewn with clues that nobody picks up on. And is it supposed to be funny that Maggie, who has nightmares after burning someone to death, goes for counseling -- only to get a crush on her cute psychologist? Maybe that's who the writer's going for, that reader with an odd sense of humor. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between having a conscience and an untamed inner voice.

  • Is it ever just to administer justice all by yourself?

  • If Maggie's mind is found to be diseased, what should be her punishment?

Book details

For kids who love mysteries

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