PJV Quickie: As you can probably tell by the synopsis, The Cruelty is not in a genre usually covered here at PJV. When I was approached about reviewing it, I couldn’t say no. I just knew this book was going to be amazing and I was right! From the very first page I was hooked, completely absorbed in the story of a young woman who was so courageous that she would go to the ends of the earth to find her father. The Cruelty is dark, gritty, suspenseful, and I loved every bit of it.


Wow, what an amazing book. I see people all of the time say, “I love a strong female protagonist,” and I’ve personally read books where I thought the female lead was extremely brave, strong, and intelligent. Gwendolyn, the 17 year old heroine of The Cruelty, makes other characters pale in comparison. She undeniably had a rough life, with her mother being murdered and her father’s job causing them to relocate often. She was tough from the very beginning, but her transformation from high schooler into a one-woman rescue operation was really remarkable. It would take a certain kind of person to pull that off. I found myself wondering while reading if I would be capable of doing the things Gwendolyn did for someone I love. The answer is obvious; of course I would do anything I could to save my loved ones if they were in the same predicament. Even so, it seems like such an impossible situation and it would be hard not to fall into despair. She never wavers in her resolve to save her father. Watching Gwendolyn change and evolve as the novel progressed was amazing, but it was also sad. You know she’s done and seen things that no 17 year old should ever have to experience, and the person she was before is dead. She can never go back to just being a normal teenager again and that reality of that is disheartening.

Part of what drew me to this book was the similarity to the movie Taken with Liam Neeson. If you’ve never seen it, then all I have to say is, “What rock have you been living under?” It’s seriously awesome. In a few ways, the stories are similar. They both involve saving a loved one and sex trafficking. The plot of The Cruelty though is so much more awe-inspiring. Neeson’s character in Taken already had a “particular set of skills”. Gwendolyn had little knowledge of self-defense and wasn’t at all prepared for the dangers she had to face; she had to learn everything very quickly, with very little training, as time was of the essence. Her intelligence is what really aided her success. Brawn is good and sometimes necessary, especially where Gwendolyn found herself, but without smarts she never would have made it very far. I just can’t say enough good things about this character. What can I say, she’s my hero.

Author Scott Bergstrom gained a huge fan in me. Writing is definitely his calling; I was sucked into the amazing plot of The Cruelty from page one and hated to put it down even for a second. Seriously, I got agitated if I had to stop reading because I was desperate to find out what was going to happen next. This is Bergstrom’s first novel and I am already anxiously awaiting his next book. No pressure, but this girl needs more!

If I was pressed to say something critical about The Cruelty, it would probably be the ending. It felt a little abrupt to me, but I think that’s kind of the point. Gwendolyn’s life has been irrevocably changed; if you’re looking for an ending that ties up all the loose ends in a nice, tidy package, forget about it. You won’t find it here. I get that, and it’s ok. Sure, I’ll keep holding out hope that we’ll be able to revisit her in the future, but for now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Even if you’re thinking this isn’t a genre you would usually pick up, I highly suggest you step out of your comfort zone. The superb writing will be enough to get you hooked and I promise you will fall in love with the story and characters, because they really seem to come alive.

Recommendations: Everyone should give The Cruelty a chance. It’s ultimately about family and the lengths a person will go to, to save someone they love and do what is right. It makes you think, wonder what you would do, and in my book that makes a really great story that just about anyone would enjoy.