An uneven thriller that fails to engage deeply with social issues it raises.

TELL ME WHEN YOU FEEL SOMETHING

A thriller about a 17-year-old whose life falls through the cracks.

Everybody believes that Vivienne Braithwaite has a perfect life: She’s a smart, gorgeous, charismatic high schooler who works an after-school gig as a simulated patient for medical school students to practice on. With Jack, the most perfect boyfriend ever, by her side, nothing should stop her. But now Viv lies in a coma fighting for her life, the result of taking opioids at a party—and no one understands how she got there, not even her closest friends, Davida and Tim. The narrative alternates between Viv’s point of view leading up to the party that changes everything and Davida’s and Tim’s perspectives in the aftermath. Excerpts from police interviews are peppered throughout as the mystery unfolds and the book becomes a study of a girl’s real life behind her facade of happiness and perfection. Unfortunately, neither Davida nor Tim are particularly vivid characters despite sharing narratorial duties, and it’s hard to engage with their seemingly doomed romance. However, Viv’s in-depth chapters are intense, as she struggles with multiple traumas, including a difficult home life, the pressures of high expectations, her alcohol abuse, and more. Frustratingly, the book at times focuses more on thrills rather than examining very real, very topical issues of power dynamics and misplaced trust raised by the plot. Most characters are White; Jack is Black.

An uneven thriller that fails to engage deeply with social issues it raises. (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-7009-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work.

14 WAYS TO DIE

A teen sleuth tries livestreaming to catch a murderer.

Seventeen-year-old Jessica Simmons lost her mother a decade ago, the first victim of the Magpie Man, a serial killer now on victim No. 13, who has struck in locations around the U.K. Her father’s life is still in shambles and her former friends are long gone, but Jessica’s decided to publicize her tragedy. One of five contestants on YouTube’s “The Eye”—an unscripted, livestreamed reality show—Jessica asks her viewers to help identify the serial killer. But inviting the world into her home and school brings unwanted attention, perhaps even from the Magpie Man, whose body count keeps climbing: Sleuthing-related drama and peril ensue. Jessica’s friends and family are economically rendered yet believable, and Ralph renders grief beautifully and devastatingly, as something that evolves but doesn’t end. As in the story, the bulk of the action occurs when the cameras aren’t rolling, and eventually, the reality show premise and its minimally developed contestants are more a distraction and transparent deus ex machina than an integral part of Jessica’s journey. More intriguing—and with real-life precedents—is the possibility of crowdsourcing a murder investigation. Although the fast-paced finale can’t quite overcome the slow start and overlong middle, the tale reaches a dramatic, satisfactory conclusion. Characters follow a White default.

An unsettling but easy-to-read blend of social media savvy and gritty gumshoe work. (resources, author interview) (Thriller. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72823-186-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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