Book Review: I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick is a gripping thriller that follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

Kit Frick is a novelist, award-winning poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow who hails from Pittsburgh, PA. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and later earned an MFA from Syracuse University. In addition to her own writing, Frick edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press and offers editing services for private clients. She is the author of the poetry collection A Small Rising Up from the Lungs as well as the young adult novels See All the Stars and All Eyes on Us. Her new YA title, I Killed Zoe Spanos, was inspired by her lifelong love of classic murder mysteries (specifically Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca) and true crime media coverage.

As the story opens, readers are introduced to 17-year-old Anna Cicconi as she makes a startling admission to the police: “It was an accident, but … I killed Zoe Spanos.” The story then winds back in time a few months as Anna travels from Brooklyn to the posh Hamptons town of Herron Mills where she has accepted a summer nannying job; beyond a cash influx, she’s hoping to distance herself from the drinking, drugging, and one-night stands that have become routine under her mother’s seemingly ambivalent watch. But as soon as Anna arrives, she starts feeling a disorienting sense of déjà vu—and learns that she bears a striking resemblance to a local college girl (the aforementioned Zoe Spanos) who went missing on New Year’s Eve.

Outside of her babysitting duties, Anna begins encountering Zoe’s acquaintances—including her boyfriend, Caden (home from college to care for his ailing mother at the gothic Windermere); her younger sister, Ariel; and high school student Martina Green, who hosts the Missing Zoe podcast (a well-meaning project that eventually goes viral), each of whom has their own suspicions about what may have happened to Zoe. Theories of her disappearance range from the belief that she skipped town to start a new life elsewhere to murder, despite the lack of a body. But when Zoe’s remains finally turn up, ensconced in a boat that was stolen and then sunk, Anna starts to have memories of a New Year’s Eve encounter that she believes led to Zoe’s (accidental) death and a subsequent coverup. But are her murky recollections to be trusted?

As noted, the narrative alternates timeframes between past and present events as the circumstances leading to Anna’s confession—and eventual recantation—are slowly revealed. Additionally, transcripts from Martina’s podcast, which both spur the investigation forward and occasionally lead it astray, are interspersed throughout; these extracts also influence the ever-shifting allegiances between those left behind in the wake of Zoe’s disappearance. Red herrings abound, and little is trustworthy—including appearances. This is certainly not a new approach to storytelling but one that Frick manages nimbly, providing the cumulative effect of leaving readers as off-balance as Anna herself.

I Killed Zoe Spanos is an absorbing, atmospheric mystery that is both of the moment and delightfully reverential. It’s also a story of ambition, intention, interpretation, and empowerment in which human frailties and fastidiousness have unintended consequences. While Anna may be lost, discovering the truth about what happened to Zoe may just allow her to (re)discover the truth about herself.

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