Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Category: YA Crime

Review: Stolen – Lucy Christopher

Stolen book coverStolen is an extremely cleverly written book. It’s essentially a book about Stockholm Syndrome, written for a young adult audience, and its greatest feature is the way that Lucy Christopher takes the reader along on the same emotional ride experienced by protagonist Gemma. At the beginning of the book, Ty – her captor – comes across as creepy and unappealing but, as he reveals more of himself and more of the past that led them both to the Australian outback, he becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character. I never found him truly likeable, because there always remains something dangerous about him, but many other readers have been completely won over by the end of the novel. Manipulating one’s readers in such a fashion takes a lot of writing skill. Although Stolen has its faults, I came away from reading it with a healthy respect for the author’s talent. I love a book that can mess with my head.

As suggested above, however, Stolen isn’t flawless. At times, it feels over-long. There is a lot of description of the Australian outback and I’m not sure whether I’m just jaded to that, as someone who lives in Australia and has been fed images and romanticised perspectives of the outback all my life, or whether the description really does take over a little at times. For the first half of the book, I wasn’t very engaged at all. I kept reading because the premise interested me and the writing style is elegant and clever, but I wasn’t invested in the characters or their actions. I think the beginning of the change in Gemma’s attitude towards Ty also marked the beginning of my greater interest in the novel. Perhaps it was a case of my needing more movement in terms of character development and plot or perhaps it just comes down to me being in a more receptive mood by the time I reached the second half of the book. Either way, my near-indifference was not lasting and I definitely enjoyed the latter half of the novel and the book as a completed whole.

I think that’s really how Stolen should be assessed. Its power doesn’t lie in its characters or even in the artfully described and ever-present setting. The true power of Christopher’s work is its ability to draw its readers in and to make them feel a little of what Gemma is feeling. Her confusion became my confusion. And that’s the sign of a good author.

Review: The Lying Game – Sara Shepard

lyinggameThe Lying Game has an extremely interesting premise, in that it’s narrated by a dead girl who is watching the action through the eyes of the identical twin sister that she hadn’t known existed. Therefore, while it is essentially told in the first person, it usually reads like a third person perspective, with the ghostly Sutton relating Emma’s experiences as she tries to fit into Sutton’s life and work out what has happened to her sister. It sounds a little confusing when described and it took me a while to adapt to the concept but, once I did, I found it a very clever take on the whodunnit format.

The plot of the novel is very engaging, and I quickly found myself guessing at who might turn out to be Sutton’s murderer. I found Sara Shepard’s mystery writing to be quite reminiscent of Agatha Christie, in that she is very good at ensuring that there are numerous suspects, all with very good reason to want Sutton out of their lives. I certainly have my own strong suspicions about the murderer, but I will most likely be proven wrong!

While Emma is a likeable character, the twin she is pretending to be is very much not, which is one of the most interesting things about The Lying Game. Ghost!Sutton has very little memory of her life, meaning that she discovers just how unpleasant she was at the same time as Emma and the novel’s readers do. I think this helps the character to be a lot more sympathetic than she otherwise would be, which is important in a book that is populated largely by people who aren’t very nice.

There are a few things that aren’t very believable here – like Emma being able to bluff her way as a tennis captain despite only having played the sport on a Wii – but it’s not so bad that it detracts from the plot. And it’s the mystery here that’s the book’s biggest strength. In the end, the characters and Emma’s charade are secondary to the question of who killed Sutton. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not revealed in this first book of the Lying Game series. Indeed, The Lying Game does not exist very well as a stand-alone novel, lacking as it is in any real conclusions. Luckily, the story is interesting enough that I’m happy to read on to get the answers I need.

Review: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove – Lauren Kate

The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove coverFor years, Natalie Hargrove has been working towards achieving the ultimate high school goal – becoming the next Palmetto Princess. Coming from a less-than-exclusive background, she is always conscious of maintaining the necessary appearances to ensure her reputation remains unsullied as she pursues her prize. But then a tragedy causes Natalie’s carefully-constructed world to start to unravel…

I adore books about high school queen bees, and about the trials and tribulations of teen popularity, so I thought that The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, it seemed to miss the mark, and I am struggling to articulate why it didn’t quite work for me, because there were so many elements that should have made me love it.

There is a thoughtful exploration of life and character that lies beneath the glitz and drama of Lauren Kate’s plot. The true nature of Natalie’s deprived and depressing past is gradually revealed as the book unfolds, and there are thought-provoking contrasts between the two very separate elements of society that can be found in the town and in Natalie’s own history. Kate presents a picture of people with no prospects and little hope, against which Natalie’s social climbing and ruthlessness become more easy to understand.

While the two socio-economic groups detailed in The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove seem worlds apart in some ways, Kate also shows that they’re a lot more similar than her characters might consider. Indeed, the reader is forced to ask whether Natalie was really any safer once she had “made it” than when she still lived in a trailer. On both sides of the tracks, sex, drugs and alcohol rule. Natalie tries so hard to put behind the world in which a girl like her is only useful for sex, but yet her relationship with her boyfriend – overtly described as loving – is shown to be largely based around sex. It is the main way that Natalie and Mike know how to relate to each other and, once sex and physicality are removed, they flounder. It is also sex, and her mother’s willingness to use it as currency, that got Natalie out of the trailer park in the first place.

On an intellectual level, therefore, I have a good amount of respect for this book. Lauren Kate says rather a lot beneath the facade of a fairly fluffy story. My trouble with The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove is that this facade just doesn’t work for me. The reader is presented with a cast of unlikeble characters. Natalie herself is self-focussed beyond the point where it is easy to excuse her behaviour through knowledge of her past, Mike is almost entirely bereft of personality and the supporting characters are either caricatures or similarly unlikeable. J.B was, by far, the most interesting character to me and he isn’t in the book much at all.

I found that the writing style also distanced me from the novel. The choice of first person seemed odd, given the book’s ending, and both the prologue and the epilogue felt over-written. More importantly, however, the world of The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove doesn’t feel real. It read to me like a fantasy of what it is to be popular and daring and to be dating a fabulous boy.

While, on the whole, The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove didn’t quite work for me, it certainly wouldn’t deter me from picking up Fallen. I saw a lot of promise in the ideas behind Kate’s writing, even though the style and characters of this work were not as strong as I would have liked.

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