Review of Audiobook
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Pages: 385 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
This novel is a young adult political thriller set in the high-stakes venue of Washington, DC. Tess, a 16-year-old orphan who has been living a quiet life on a horse farm in a rural area of Montana with her grandfather, is swept into this alien world when Grandpa develops Alzheimer’s, and her much older sister, Ivy, places him in assisted living and brings Tess to DC to live with her. Though only around 34 years of age, Ivy is an enormously influencial political-fixer in Washington DC who, as the saying goes, knows where all the bodies are buried. She is very close to the president of the USA and his wife. Due to Ivy’s wealth and connections, she easily manages to place Tess in the ultimate exclusive private school in DC. It is reinforced like a fortress because it is primarily attended by the offspring of the federal government’s political elite. Within day one of her tenure there, Tess, much like her sister, immediately becomes known as the school’s resident fixer, because she successfully leaps to the defense of the Vice President’s 14-year-old daughter, who is being targeted by a vicious bully, who is the son of the Minority Whip of the House of Representatives.
Tess is forceful, determined and very independent, and therefore quite active as a protagonist. Which is a big plus for any novel, but especially a thriller. She begins the book as an alienated loner, which is not my favorite trope in YA, because it frequently causes teenage protagonists to spend far too much passive, self-pitying time engaged in melodramatic introspection. It is also a violation of a major genre expectation of YA, that the protagonist have a close group of friends. However, Tess is only mildly self-pitying as these things go in YA, and she does manage to pick up a coterie of three close friends over the course of her heroic adventures as a Mini-Me fixer.
There are no wild drinking parties, drugs, or sex in this book, but I would rate it PG-13 for violence. Violence, of course, is an essential factor in a thriller. I personally don’t typically read thrillers, much preferring the stylized violence of action-adventure. So true fans of that genre might disagree with me, and consider the violence in this book rather tame. And truthfully, the violence in this book is much more in the style of Alfred Hitchcock than Sam Peckinpah, in that is not ghoulishly graphic.
For fans of a romantic plot in a YA novel, or any novel for that matter, there is no romance in this book. There is, instead, a strong and important emphasis, which is quite original as YA novels go, on the relationship between Tess and Ivy, the mysterious woman who has become Tess’s guardian. Typically in YA, parental figures are portrayed as mere shadows in the background, or as destructive antagonists, or as ridiculously upbeat and/or clueless clowns. Ivy is none of these things.
One big complaint that I have, which may not bother readers who are not fellow political junkies, is that an absolutely vital portion of the resolution of the main plot in this book revolves around executive use of pardons. The author clearly didn’t take the time to fully research how they work, and she got it totally wrong. It made it difficult for me to suspend disbelief.
To me, the two books of this series are so interlinked that they need to be experienced as if they are one, long novel. This is because if you don’t read Book 2 of this duology, you won’t find out the ultimate resolution of the overarching evil-conspiracy plot which, of course, is an essential trope contained in all good thriller novels.
I experienced this book as an audiobook. The narrator, who narrates both books in this series, has a high-pitched voice that was rather irritating to me, especially when she attempts, and fails, to adequately portray male voices. However, unlike what seems to be the vast majority of female narrators of YA fiction, she does not narrate the heroine as a perpetual whiner, which is a huge relief. Whine-narrators make YA audiobooks unbearable for me to listen to.
I rate this book as follows:
Thriller Plot: 3
Overall for the Book Itself: 4
Audiobook Narrator: 3