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REVIEW:  The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery

REVIEW: The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery

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Dear Ms. Spradbery,

I’m really into YA thrillers as of late. Whether this is a result of my general boredom with YA fantasies these days or a callback to my teenaged love of Christopher Pike, I don’t know. But I can’t seem to get enough of them right now. Your novel, The 100 Society sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a try.

An art student at a British private school, Grace has one goal. To tag 100 locations around the city, thereby joining “The 100 society”. Graffiti is a type of art, after all. But 100 tags is a lot to do by yourself so Grace has recruited some friends to help her: her friend, Faith; pretty girl Cassie; Cassie’s boyfriend, Ed; her best friend who wants to be more, Pete; and bad boy, Trick.

Unfortunately, the closer Grace gets to 100 tags, the more it becomes apparent there’s a stalker — the Reaper — who doesn’t want her to succeed. And as the threats escalate, Grace and her friends face increasing danger, and the added stress reveals fault lines in their relationships. Not the best thing to happen in this situation. But even worse is the truth: the Reaper might be someone they know.

I had a strange experience reading this book. I didn’t connect at all with any of the characters. I found them superficial and 2D. At times they just downright annoyed me. And anyone who knows me knows that I like to read for characters. But despite this lack, I could not stop reading! I had to know what was going to happen next! What is this black magic?

Some people would claim there is a love triangle here. I wouldn’t actually describe what happens in the book as a love triangle. Grace is into Trick. (Trick is short for Patrick. I know. I know.) Trick is into Grace. Pete is into Grace. But Grace only likes him as a friend. That’s not a love triangle. There is one moment in the book where I can see people pointing to as a sign that Grace might consider Pete as a legitimate suitor, but I saw it as a momentary lapse of judgment and confusion due to stress.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the questionable female friendships. Grace’s friend, Faith, likes Pete, so she’s not too thrilled by the fact that he’s into Grace. That’s understandable. What I wasn’t so into was that her friendship with Grace was defined by Pete — she’s sad they don’t spend as much time together anymore (but that’s because she doesn’t like Grace hanging out with Pete). She thinks Grace is leading Pete on, which is an idea I generally recoil from because it contributes to Nice Guy culture. He’s nice! He’s been friends with you since forever! He’s into you! Why won’t you like him back? If you’re not interested in him, don’t lead him on… by being his friend? Really?

Like any true mystery, there are many suspects. I thought they were all legitimate — the red herrings were not obviously red herrings in my opinion. So the twists and turns worked for me, even though the characterization was light and more often than not, the characters made decisions because the plot required it rather than because it was intrinsic to their character.

If you’re looking for a thriller with deep, interesting characterization, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a fast read with lots of twists and turns — that may make you whisper to yourself, “WTF?” — The 100 Society is for you. That said, this book was the literary equivalent of a potato chip. Seems like a good idea at the time, but it doesn’t really stick around. C

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  The Dare by Hannah Jayne

REVIEW: The Dare by Hannah Jayne

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Dear Ms. Jayne,

I’m fond of YA thrillers. I think it’s because I grew up on Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike. In fact, I still think of the earlier Christopher Pike books with nostalgia (Remember Me!) even though I’m not so keen on his later work. The Dare is a throwback to those old-school YA thrillers, WTF moments and all.

Brynna, the protagonist of The Dare, is a recovering hot mess. There’s no other way to put it. One night, Brynna dared her best friend, Erica, to jump into the ocean. Because Erica balked at the prospect, she agreed to jump in with her. Unfortunately, only Brynna came back and Erica’s body was never found.

Unable to deal with the guilt of losing her best friend because of her dare and the ensuing rumors, Bryn turned to drugs and alcohol and plunged into a destructive downward spiral. After a stint in rehab, her family moved so she could have a fresh start in a new place and new high school. Bryn immediately finds a new group of friends and settles into her new life, but then she starts receiving threatening messages that suggest Erica might not be dead after all.

Wow, this novel was strongly reminiscent of Lois Duncan’s thrillers. I was really reminded of I Know What You Did Last Summer. The only difference, of course, is that Bryn didn’t kill Erica. It was just an accident. She didn’t hit someone with her car and she didn’t actually try to conceal what happened. The only deception that occurred was her reticence about revealing her past to her newfound friends and that’s reasonable. No one, teenager or adult, wants to unload something major on people they just met.

I’ve of two minds about Bryn’s newfound friends. I like the fact that she wasn’t bullied for being the new girl. On the other hand, it seems awfully convenient that the cool kids adopt her into their crowd at first sight. I guess we’re supposed to accept this good fortune as whimsy but I had a hard time buying it. It was just so easy. Bryn barely said hello and suddenly she’s assimilated into their group.

I think part of my dissatisfaction comes from the fact that the relationships were barely delved into. They followed familiar patterns. The leader of the group adopts her but there’s nothing going on there because he’s gay. The hot guy of the group likes her and another girl in the group isn’t too happy about this because she has feelings for him. That said, I think these kinds of relationships are fine in fiction. Are they original? No. But they’re familiar to readers, and I get that. Unfortunately, that also means they need to be executed well and not used as lazy shorthand. I felt The Dare does more of the latter than the former.

Having grown up on all those old school YA thrillers, I thought the culprit was pretty obvious. There’s a pattern to these things. Maybe other readers don’t feel the same. I do question some of the red herrings, particularly those tossed in at the end. (Such as: What’s a couple of roofies between friends? Really? This is what we choose to go with?)

It’s because of those red herrings and crisis moments towards the end, when Bryn finds herself isolated, that I find the resolution so hard to believe. It falls flat. Mostly because if you don’t make me believe in the strength of those friendships, and show those relationships breaking under a stalker’s outside influence, why would I believe things will be sunshine and roses at the end? Instead of being believable, I found the ending — and especially the final line — to be eyeroll-inducing.

The Dare is a throwback to those old school YA thrillers where someone was after the protagonist, stalking them, endangering their life and ruining their reputation. I think 14-year-old me would have liked this book but the me-of-now wants a little more depth in character relationships for me to care. C-

My regards,
Jia

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