Book review and synopsis for We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz, a quick but predictable thriller about two best friends who end up in hotel room with a dead body.
We Were Never Here is about two best friends, Emily and Kristen, who go on vacation in Chile and end up in a hotel room with a dead body. Kristen says the man attacked her and that she killed him in self-defense.
As much as Emily wants to believe her, she's still recovering from the trauma of a very similar incident that happened to them one year ago on their annual trip together. Can it really be possible that something like this could happen twice?
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of We Were Never HereQuick Plot Summary
The one-paragraph version: Emily and Kristen are on vacation in Chile when Kristen kills a man, saying that he attacked her. Together, they dispose of the body. It mirrors an incident last year when Kristen had killed a man that tried to assault Emily. Soon, Kristen ends up moving home to where Emily lives and becomes increasingly clingy. Emily suspects Kristen feels threatened by Emily dating someone new, Aaron. Emily starts to realize how Kristen always wants Emily to herself and has sabotaged her past relationships. She thinks that Kristen killed the man in Chile in hopes it would bring them closer over the shared trauma. When Kristen finally blackmails Emily over the deaths to force her to stay close to her, Emily tries to push Kristen off a cliff but has a change of heart. Kristen then tries to kill Emily, but is stopped and killed by Aaron.
Emily Donovan and her best friend Kristen Czarnecki are on vacation in Chile when Emily returns after a night out to find Kristen in the room with a dead body. Kristen says the man she'd invited back, Paolo, assaulted her after being unwilling to take no for an answer.
Emily is shocked and still traumatized over very similar events that had transpired when they were on vacation in Cambodia just last year. In that case, Emily had invited a guy back to their hotel -- Sebastian -- and he had gotten too rough with her. When she told him to leave, he attempted to assault her until Kristen happened to return to the room to stop him. Sebastian had died, and they'd gotten rid of the body by tossing it off the nearby cliff into the water.
In present day, they rehash a conversation they've had before about how difficult it can be to deal with foreign police. Once again, the women realize the only option is to get rid of the body. Upon returning home to Milwaukee, Emily feels unsettled by how unbothered Kristen seems to be and the strange coincidence in this happening twice to them.
Emily finds herself wanting some distance from their friendship, but Kristen shows up at her door saying that she's moving back to Milwaukee (from Sydney). Kristen is staying with her grandparents (because her parents died in a house fire when she was 12).
Kristen soon hijacks Emily's birthday plans to turn it into a weekend away for the two of them at Kristen's grandparent's lake house. Emily suspects the Kristen is so eager to keep her close because she feels threatened by Emily dating someone new, Aaron. She eventually starts to think about her past relationships, and starts to think that Kristen has wanted to sabotage them to keep her to herself.
Meanwhile, the Chilean police have found Paolo's body. It turns out he is American and from a wealthy family who is offering a $1M reward for information about his death.
At the lake house, Emily also finds out about Kristen's childhood best friend, Jamie, who passed away. An online search reveals that Jamie committed suicide two weeks after Kristen's parents died.
When they get back home, Emily starts to pull away from her friendship with Kristen, but Kristen reminds her that she has dirt on her through a photo she has of Emily and Sebastian together. When they get into an argument, and Kristen threatens to turn it over to the authorities. Kristen also shows her that she still has evidence of the Paolo murder to use against her as well, and Kristen insists that Emily was the one who killed Sebastian, not her.
Desperate to get away from Kristen, Emily plans an impromptu weekend trip away to Arizona with Aaron. However, Kristen shows up there. In the meantime, the police have now released a sketch of who they think was involved in Paolo's murder, who they've identified as an American woman. The police have also determined that Paolo was drugged before he was killed.
In Arizona, Kristen forces Emily to hang out with her. Feeling cornered, Emily thinks that Kristen has underestimated her, and she realizes that she (Emily) really was the one who killed Sebastian. With that in mind, Emily shoves Kristen off a nearby cliff. However, Kristen ends up hanging off a ledge, and Emily has a change of heart and saves her.
When Aaron comes driving up, Kristen then retaliates by trying to shove Emily in front of his vehicle. But Aaron manages to swerve in time and instead he hits Kristen and they both go careening off the cliff.
Ultimately, Aaron survives, but Kristen dies. At the hospital, Kristen's godparents show up -- Jamie's parents. Jenny (Jamie's mother) tells Emily that she knows Kristen was trouble and had been a bad influence, but she still felt bad for her. Kristen was always trying to get Jamie to misbehave or she'd do bad things and try to convince Jamie that she (Jamie) did it.
Jenny later learned that Kristen's father had been abusing Jamie. Jamie thought the only way to stop it was to kill him, so she started the house fire not realizing that Kristen's mother was home (as was Kristen, but Kristen escaped). Soon after, Jamie killed herself.
In present day, Emily tells Aaron the full truth about what happened, saying that she's willing to turn herself in to prevent him from being charged with Kristen's murder. But he helps her find a lawyer, Deirdre. Soon, the police tie Kristen and Emily to Paolo's death. However, Deirdre convinces them that Kristen had been blackmailing Emily, and they drop the case against Emily. Also, the Arizona police initially think Aaron and Emily purposefully killed Kristen to shut her up, but eventually they give up after they determine they are unable to build a compelling case against the two of them.
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.
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I just finished this book and I want to discuss the last paragraph! What does that mean that she used a name from her previous travels and befriends a solo woman. Honestly it made me question all the assumptions and the story.
Yup I just finished it too. **spoiler alert** toward the last 1/3 of the book I started questioning the protagonist’s motives and was she really the instigator all along. I just found it unfathomable that she didn’t know this about her friend after a decade-long friendship as well as knowing her friend’s controlling nature and obsessions. She said they were “of the same brain” on many things. I found that a bit odd
I just finished as well and also wondered what it meant that she was “Joan” once again.
I thought that was interesting, but I took it just as a reminder that, for all of Kristen’s faults, there’s a part of her that made things more fun for Emily and that Emily ultimately was a willing participant in their dysfunctional friendship
I still think Kristen was bonkers and we could have all done without the Joan/Dan thing.
I really enjoyed the book until the lackluster predictable ending. I thought there would be a better twist. Like maybe we and Emily would be convinced that Kristen was just a poor victim, and then suddenly it would turn out she had put in place a backup plan so that when the murder was traced to them, Emily would go down for it and Kristen would once again get away with murder. There were so many pieces of the story that didn’t end up meaning anything. Eg the stollen wallet with Emily’s ids linking her to the location. Emily turning her phone on. Kristen leaving her for a while to check there was nobody in the location they were burying the body. Kristen going to the same therapist as Emily. Etc. Just a bit boring that the narrator got away with everything and lived happily ever after.
Thank you! You summed up the feelings that I finally decided it wasn’t worth the effort to write about. Ambiguity is fine but it can’t be used as a literary device unless the reader clearly knows the truth at the end. Only a very talented and skilled writer can pull this off. Andrea Barts is not one of these.. The book was terrible and I’m glad I wasn’t the only one completely confused. This just proves the writer didn’t do her job. Thank God I checked this out from the library because I would have been really ticked off had I paid money for it
I disagree with most of the comments on this site. I read a lot of thrillers, and I think the writing in this one was a cut above. I believe the reason so many people found the plot boring and predictable is because they missed what was really going on:: Emily is an unreliable narrator and her conclusions about Kristen are completely false. I think Emily is as disturbed as Kristen, and this is clearly foreshadowed if you go back and read the very first paragraph in the book. Kristen is picking grapes and leaning over a cliff in Chile, and Emily imagines pushing her off. I think the ending was meant to make us stop and think that all the conclusions we’ve been led to were, in fact, wrong.