Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Damage Done - Amanda Panitch

Damage Done
Amanda Panitch
Random House
Young Adult/Thriller
Every once in a while, seventeen-year-old Lucy Black has to remind herself of her name.  She’s had this name for a bit less than a year.  Last year, she was Julia Vann.  She went to high school, played clarinet in the band, had friends, and a boyfriend.  She also had a twin brother, Ryan.   They were as close as two people could be.  The two of them held hands in the womb.  They were practically inseparable as kids, even after Ryan was sent to a doctor about his behavior.  After that, Ryan spent a lot of time with Dr. Spence, his therapist.  And then one day, Ryan walked into the band room and never walked out again.  Neither did anyone else, except Julia.  After that day, nothing could possibly be the same.  Now she’s Lucy and she lives in a new town among strangers.  She started at a new school.  She has a new friend or two.  She’s on the verge of having a boyfriend.  And no one knows who she really is.
Being Lucy is kind of a relief.  No one wants to ask her horrible questions or call her vile names.  Reporters aren’t lurking in the bushes every time someone takes out the trash.  On the other hand, most of her previous life is gone and she can never talk about it.  She has exactly one photo left of Ryan.  Compared to the other victims, maybe she’s lucky.  Until one day, rushing into first period, she spots him in the parking lot.  He’s far away, but she’s sure it’s Dr. Spence.  How could he have found her?  More to the point, what does he want?  Digging up the past and destroying the present is the very last thing Lucy (or Julia) wants. 
This is written for young adults, but it will appeal to a wider set of readers.  At the core, this is a very well written thriller.  I stayed up much too late because I had to find out what happened.  Julia/Lucy is a completely sympathetic character.  She’s not only the new kid, she has to lie about where she came from and who she was and what she did.  The whole novel is written from her perspective, so the reader really gets a good look inside her head.  While there are some difficult themes here (school tragedy, student deaths, psychological issues) most teens should have no trouble with this.  Most parents will want to borrow it when they’re done.
Rating: 8
August 2015
ISBN# 978-0-553-50749-2  (hardcover)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Rules - Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

The Rules
Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié
Delacorte Press

Young Adult/Horror/Thriller
From the outside looking in, it seems like August DeYoung and his sister, Alexa, have it all.  Their parents are wealthy and that gives them freedom and opportunities most teenagers don’t have.  But, while their parents’ money is always around, the parents are emotionally absent, leaving the siblings to their own devices in their new home in California wine country.  August has built up emotional defenses against people who only want to use him and his friendship for his money.  Alexa, though, desperately craves love and attention and acceptance.  She’s gone down a dark road of drug addiction and empty sex in her search for affection.  One morning, she’s found in the pool at the country club, drowned.

August is devastated by the loss of his sister.  Unlike her, he has a strong personality, a genius IQ, and a laser-like ability to focus and plan.  During the following school year, he mounts a campaign to become the guy who throws the best parties; the guy who gives out trips to Europe as door prizes; the guy who stages elaborate scavenger hunts with huge prizes at the end.  To do this, he’s enlisted the help of Beth, up until then just a high school nobody.  A nobody who’s known the A-list kids since birth and can help August work his way into the group.  Now the end of their senior year is approaching.  August has planned (without Beth’s help, for reasons that worry her) what he bills as his final, blow-out, sure to be legendary, party and scavenger hunt. 

The guests assemble at an abandoned factory to begin a hunt with enormous, personalized, life-altering prizes at the end.  With prizes like a Los Angeles agent for the aspiring actress and the use of Mr. DeYoung’s considerable influence on college boards and coaches at stake, no one is going to miss this.  And that’s good, because August knows that at least one of these people – and probably more – was directly responsible for the death of his sister.  Those people need to pay, by any means necessary.  No punishment is enough for their crime. This party is going to be legendary.  And deadly.

If this sounds like the setup to a scary movie, you’re right.  And in less-experienced hands, it could have gone terribly wrong.  Fortunately, these two authors are very, very good at setting the stage, introducing the characters, and giving them all reasons for everything they do.  Everyone comes to the party with their own sets of preconceived notions, their own plans and hopes for the future, and their own secrets.  Take all of those together, and they form a set of ‘rules’ that each of us uses to know how to act from day to day.  Those rules no longer apply here, because there’s a killer on the loose, and there’s no way to know who the next target is.
Every good scary movie needs an innocent-in-all-this heroine.  Ours is Robin: nice girl, good student, the daughter of the high school football coach, the kind of girl who plays Clue with her little brother because he loves it.  Robin is not part of the in crowd.  She was friends with Beth until Beth dumped everyone else for August.  Going to this party is huge for Robin, socially.  Robin, like the reader, walks into the situation completely unprepared.  The authors do a great job of setting the stage and establishing the mood.  There are some unexpected twists that keep this from being too straightforward.  If you like scary movies, you’ll love this book. 
Rating: 8
July 2015
ISBN# 978-0-375-98347-4 (hardcover)