REVIEW: Mind Games by Kiersten White
Dear Ms. White,
Despite hearing good things about your Paranormalcy trilogy, I haven’t had the chance to pick them up yet. My paranormal weariness usually results in my passing over books in favor of something fresh and new (to me). But when I heard that you were writing a thriller about sisters, I was intrigued.
Fia and Annie were orphaned when their parents died in a car accident. Annie, the older sister, can see the future in confusing, fragmented bursts. But the younger sister, Fia, promised her parents she would take care of Annie, who also happens to be blind. After their parents’ deaths, Fia and Annie go to live with their aunt who is anything but thrilled. When an elite, but mysterious, school takes an interest in Annie, the aunt is more than willing to foist her unwanted burdens onto someone else.
Annie is excited about the school. They make all sorts of promises about restoring her eyesight, and this is more than enough reason for her to accept the offer. Fia, however, doesn’t want to separate and it’s not just the promise that makes her adamant. She has a bad feeling about the school and she’s learned to trust her instincts because they’re always right. Her stubbornness piques the interest of the school and as a result, both sisters are accepted.
In what is a surprise to absolutely no one, the school is not what it seems. It’s a training ground for girls with psychic abilities. And while it was Annie’s precognitive talent that interested the school, it soon becomes apparent that Fia has the more interesting power. Fia has perfect instincts. Her initial gut reaction is the correct one. It makes her perfect for stock trading, corporate espionage… and murder.
When Annie’s abilities fail to live up to their potential, Fia becomes the star of the school. But because she never trusted the school in the first place, she is uncooperative. As a result, the sisters’ relationship is turned against them. Annie becomes the hostage guaranteeing Fia’s good behavior and obedience. Fia does anything asked of her to ensure Annie’s well-being while Annie, in her gilded cage, does everything she can to save her broken sister from becoming a monster.
Having not read your previous books, I went into this book with no expectations. While this book is called a thriller, I don’t think that’s accurate. This was more the story of two sisters, the pressures their relationship undergo, and their many attempts to escape a prison that has broken and warped them. I’m a big fan of female relationships in fiction so I liked this. Readers expecting a dark thriller about corporate espionage and assassination might be disappointed, however. There are moments of unexpected, and somewhat brutal, violence but I wouldn’t call this book that kind of edgy and dark thriller.
The book alternates between the POVs of Fia and Annie. It is in the dreaded first person POV and at times, the narrative veers towards stream of consciousness. I thought it was effective most of the time but other readers may disagree. Despite my enjoyment of the narrative style, I thought the alternating POVs was the novel’s biggest weakness. Due to her rage, Fia’s voice is so much stronger than Annie’s and she stole the narrative show. Part of this is my bias. I have a soft spot for the broken, angry female characters, and Fia is definitely that.
But contrasting Fia’s rage against Annie’s naivete often put Annie in a bad light. It’s true they were young when they encountered the school and Annie let her own hopes cloud her common sense. When you’re young and inexperienced, I can see how you’d believe anything if it meant getting something you’ve always dreamed of. I definitely think the school capitalized on Annie’s trusting nature. But to go from her naivete to Fia, who was clearly mistreated from Day 1 as the school tried to figure out the exact nature of her abilities, was hard. It made Annie’s innocence seem willful in the face of all evidence suggesting otherwise.
On the other hand, I liked the complicated portrayal of their relationship. The traditional dynamic of older sister looking after younger sister was disrupted because of Annie’s disability. On some level, Annie resented this and that contributed to her willingness to believe the promises that her eyesight could be restored. She wanted to be the a proper older sister. But because she’d always been taken care of, she sucked at identifying the transformation being forced upon Fia until it was too late. And then we have Fia, who loves Annie and will do anything for her even if it means destroying herself, but who also resents the fact that Annie landed them in this mess. It’s ugly but I think that’s what makes it real.
This being YA, there are potential love interests. Of course there are. The story of Mind Games is kicked into motion when Fia fails to kill a boy and does everything to hide this mistake to spare Annie. Only she later discovers that it wasn’t the higher ups who ordered the hit; it was Annie. The target, of course, is the good boy in this set-up. The bad boy in this equation is Fia’s handler. He’s also the son of the school’s owner. I was lukewarm about this apparent love triangle but my fears were misplaced. The novel’s focus remains on the sisters’ relationship and everything else is secondary to that. I will say that despite my overall dislike of the bad boy archetype in YA novels, the one in Mind Games has some surprising depth to him and I found myself warming up to him by the end.
While Mind Games doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the story is not complete. It does end in a good place but there is no doubt that future adventures are in store. I’m definitely on board for the next installment and based on the novel’s ending, interested to see how the relationship between the sisters evolves from here. B+