Book Review: You’re Invited by Amanda Jayatissa

Amanda Jayatissa's You're Invited is a dangerous psychological thriller about a lavish Sri Lankan wedding celebration that not everyone will survive. Here's Doreen Sheridan's review!

Amaya Bloom has problems. Once a brash young woman ready to take on the world, nowadays she’s content to run a small spice shop in California and quietly stalk her former best friend on social media. Kaavi Fonseka seems to have everything Amaya once thought was within her reach, too: a glamorous life of wealth and influence, documenting her award-winning charitable efforts as well as her skincare routine and fashion tips for her legions of adoring fans worldwide. But most of all, Kaavi has a loving, tight-knit family that Amaya desperately misses, though it’s been five years since Amaya last had contact with any of them:

Things change as you grow. As you understand the world for what it is. That we overcompensate in our memories because we didn’t know any better at the time. 

 

That was how I was expecting things to be with Kaavi and the Fonsekas.

 

I had hoped that it was all in my head. That I’d put them on some sort of pedestal because I’d missed them so much. That I had been looking at my past through glasses that were so rose-tinted that everything was just fluorescent pink at this point. But with Kaavi, it was the opposite. In our time apart, I’d withered away to less, and she’d blossomed to be more.

When Kaavi announces she’s getting married, Amaya is taken aback, then completely flips out after realizing the groom-to-be is Amaya’s own ex-boyfriend Matthew Spencer. Spencer, as he’s known, and Amaya had a bad break-up five years ago, an event that preceded the rupture in her own friendship with Kaavi. Seeing the two of them together now, loving and beautiful on all of Kaavi’s social media accounts, triggers something in Amaya. When she gets the invitation to Kaavi’s wedding in Colombo, Sri Lanka, she knows she has to do everything in her power to stop the wedding, even if the results could turn deadly.

There is so much I cannot say about this book because I do not want to spoil a single second of the reading experience for you. While several of the earlier plot twists seem telegraphed, Amanda Jayatissa is merely lulling jaded crime readers like myself into a false sense of complacency before delivering a series of knockout blows that had me gasping loudly, unable to put down the book till after I’d turned that last, memorable page.

And more than just being a devastatingly twisty thriller, the trenchant insight into being a modern woman—and even more specifically a modern woman navigating the tensions between the liberties taken for granted by Western culture and the more rigid expectations of a post-colonial Asian society—lent a greater depth and force to the badly behaved goings on of the characters here as they schemed and plotted their ways to their goals. Amaya, for example, hates her privilege but isn’t above using it when she must:

The panic on the security guard’s face made me feel like a real villain. I knew what I was doing. He knew what I was doing. I was playing my Colombo 07 Privilege Card. The card I hated everyone else in this town for playing. Where I would use my perfect westernized English and the wealth I had the luck of being born into to make someone else feel so small, so insignificant, so afraid of their status in life that they felt that they had no choice but to let me do what I wanted. Rich kids, the children of the politically connected, did it every day. Standing in lines, stopping for traffic cops, following procedure in public administration buildings wasn’t for them. For us.

As a Malaysian emigre who has firsthand experience with this kind of thing, reading this book made me feel like the living embodiment of the “I’m in this and I don’t (know if I) like it” meme. I was already deeply affected by Ms Jayatissa’s debut novel, My Sweet Girl. That was a head-rush of a thriller, a book that trapped its main character between the racism of her California home and the ghosts of her Sri Lankan upbringing. In her sophomore effort, the author brings her scarily sharp insight to bear on Sri Lankan society itself, skewering the pretentious and downright cruel without ever patronizing the culture or characters (though even as a self-possessed eldest child, I did think Tehani got the short end of the stick. The poor woman is trying her best, okay?!) 

Self-aware, suspenseful and scandalously witty, You’re Invited is one of my favorite reads this year so far. It’s the homicidal version of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, and deserves to be just as much of a blockbuster.

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