The Case Against Sensationalism: Cartwheel

I studied abroad in Amsterdam at the same time that Amanda Knox was in Italy. And we all know how her exchange ended.

I remember it happening and being completely positive that there was no way that she could have done what they said she did. I mean, she was my age (I was 22 at the time, I think she’s actually a year or 2 younger than me), going to school abroad. She couldn’t possibly have killed her roommate!

(I realize those are thin reasons)

I hate to admit that that fascination with Amanda Knox didn’t stay in Amsterdam. I’m less sure if I think she did or didn’t do it. But I still wonder about it from time to time.

Because I’m unsure of her actual role in the whole thing, I’m uncomfortable buying her book.

But then Jennifer Dubois wrote a fictional account of the case, Cartwheel, and I felt like that would be OK to read.

This is another one of those times where a book is on my list for a long time and I had more or less forgotten about it and then found it on a list of “Books to read if you liked Gone Girl…

Despite having been burned by this before, I actively searched out Cartwheel on my next book outing.


If you’re already pretty familiar with the Amanda Knox story (guilty I’m afraid) then there will be nothing new in this book. Right down to the DNA on the bra clasp, the weird boyfriend and the libelous accusation that her boss at the bar did it. Only this time Amanda is called Lily Hayes, poor Meredith Kercher is Katy Kellars, and they studied in Argentina, not Italy. Oh and instead of living with roommates in a little bungalow without adults, Katy and Lily have a shady pair of house parents.

Lily’s parents and sister come out to support her. And what becomes apparent from the beginning is that Lily has always been a little different, a little wrong. She doesn’t react to the world like people are supposed to – as in she does a cartwheel when she’s being questioned hours after the violent death of her roommate. Again – this detail is lifted from the actual case. And we have to spend time with her oblivious father and seriously angry sister as they work through their shared history, combing through it to see if there’s anything there that proves she did or didn’t do this.

Lily is an a**hole. The way she talks to other people like she’s better, and smarter and bored with your company. She sends messages about how boring Katy is. She is arrogant about her Spanish, when those around her recognize that it’s not actually that good and she’s horribly rude to her house mother while she flirts with the house father in front of her.

It was hard work getting through this book, mostly because the only good person in it is killed. But also because the whole time you feel like you’re doing something vaguely wrong. Reading a fictionalized account of something terrible that really happened just made me feel like a sensationalistic jerk.

10 thoughts on “The Case Against Sensationalism: Cartwheel

  1. A really interesting review! The fictionalising of real events that have a tragedy at their core leaves me feeling uncomfortable too. If the author isn’t really adding anything, but just re-hashing a story for their own gain, it does feel sensationalist. I think I’ll give this one a miss….

  2. I hear you about feeling guilty giving into sensationalism. Like when I actually click and read those banner stories instead of passing them by. I will pass on this and thanks for the heads up.

  3. On the other hand, this might be a good way to get it out of your system if it is something you have spent a lot of time thinking about. That could have been the case for the author, as well.

  4. I can see how you could feel horrible reading a story based on a true event especially when bad things happened to good people. But I agree with Naomi it may be a good way of closing the door and moving on from your interest in what happened.

  5. It’s stealing too much from the original case, isn’t it? And I can imagine a scenario where it could have worked. “Inspired by” rather than “rip off of.” Exploring the role of the media vs what happens when you are a bit odd and don’t behave as expected (but then, maybe Gone Girl rather cleverly got there first.)

    thanks for reading this for us though!! as ever, always informative. (I compare your blog with the London Review of Books – I always learn something new.)

  6. Pingback: Bring it to the beach: She’s Not There | The Paperback Princess

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