Friday, March 7, 2014

What we're reading: Suspense

 I read two YA novels this past weekend, both of which could be classified as suspense. Although one of the hallmarks of suspense is that you draaaaaw it ouuuuuuut as long as possible, sometimes I feel like authors verge over the line from suspense to sheer frustration! Once you have given enough clues to let the reader guess what's going on, then it may be time to wrap it up--otherwise, it becomes an exercise in patience, waiting for the big reveal. Perhaps these writers haven't yet achieved the expertise to sense when this moment comes, or maybe it's their editors telling them to prolong the experience--I'm not sure. Anyway, the two books I read were good--well written, well plotted, great characters--but the frustration level I experienced while waiting for the plots to resolve made me consider them less than favorites.

by Josin L. McQuein
336 pages

Here's the jacket copy, which I think is effective (and also accurate)--it persuaded me to read the book!
A week ago, Dinah’s cousin Claire cut her wrists.

Five days ago, Dinah found Claire’s diary and discovered why.

Three days ago, Dinah stopped crying and came up with a plan.

Two days ago, she ditched her piercings and bleached the black dye from her hair.

Yesterday, knee socks and uniform plaid became a predator’s camouflage.

Today, she’ll find the boy who broke Claire.

By tomorrow, he’ll wish he were dead.

I liked Dinah a lot. Her transformation from goth girl to prep school chick was pretty funny, and her inner monologue was entertaining. I also liked the guys she encounters there--they are interesting and well developed characters. The story was good. The only problem I had with the book was, I figured out the "secret" about halfway through, and then spent the second half of the book (a long 160 pages) impatiently waiting for the protagonist to do so as well! I would have liked it more (and rated it higher) if the author had come up with a way to keep the secret a secret from ME a little longer. My score: 3.5. And kudos for the cover!

Just a side note: Another in the long line of "boarding school" or "private school" books--what is the fascination that teens and teen authors have with this meme?

The Killing Woods
by Lucy Christopher (author of Stolen)
369 pages
Emily's house backs up to a forest, in which she and her father (a veteran with PTSD) have shared many lazy afternoons bird-watching, looking for deer, and enjoying nature. One night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, her father, who has been in a dark mood and hiding out for a few days, walks out of the woods carrying the body of Ashlee, a girl from Emily's school. Everyone jumps to the conclusion that he killed her, but Emily just doesn't believe it. Desperate to find out who else could be the murderer, Emily starts digging around for clues.

Meanwhile, Damon, Ashlee's boyfriend, has a secret--not about the murder, but about who else was in the woods with Ashlee and what they were up to. Problem is, he got so drunk that night that he has forgotten everything that happened after a certain point...

This was a solid thriller. It alternates between the two points of view--Emily's and Damon's--and is mostly stream-of-consciousness narration by both. It made me crazy that all the different people go around talking to themselves inside their heads, speculating about the actions of others but never just speaking up and ASKING them. I know that's the way to prolong the suspense, but by the end it made me tired. Still, this had staying power, individual voices, and an interesting conclusion. I liked it well enough that I now want to go back and read her first book, Stolen.  My rating: 4.

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