A perfectly plotted thriller with a strong first-person voice that provides a thought-provoking insight into issues of privacy and free will.
Almost seventeen-year-old Zoe Littlewood is looking forward to studying for her A levels at Hinton Dale alongside her closest friends from school – Ethan, Jodie and Sonja. Zoe is planning to have fun but, unlike Jodie and Sonja, she has no intention of living her life via social media or using college as an opportunity to snag a boyfriend. Events, however, quickly conspire against her. A mysterious new boy – Jack Cartwright – has also joined Hinton Dale. He’s handsome, clever, and universally popular. Zoe seems to be the only one who’s immune to his charms but it’s not long before she starts to relent, especially after he saves her from an attempted mugging. In no time they’re dating. Everything should be perfect. Jack’s kind, attentive and full of romantic gestures but something doesn’t feel right. Zoe tries to break the relationship off, inadvertently prompting a series of shocking and ultimately life-threatening events. It turns out that everything about Jack is, indeed, too good to be true.
This book starts with one of the most impactful openings I’ve read in teen fiction for a long time – a prologue set on the roof of a high-rise building where Zoe, shaking uncontrollably, pleads with Jack as he forcibly leads her to the edge and assures her that jumping is the only way to prove their love. The short scene is dramatic in its own right and immediately hooks us into the story. However, the shadow of this scene also influences everything else that follows: chapter one jumps back three months and I spent the rest of the novel wondering how they could possibly end up in the scene from the prologue. It almost seems impossible but, finally, everything slots into place and it makes perfect sense.
I’m sorry I can’t say more about the plot of this story (to do so would give far too much away and would undoubtedly spoil your enjoyment of this perfectly plotted thriller). The underlying concept is somewhat incredible but it works brilliantly and the revelation, when it comes, is surprisingly believable. (I can’t help wondering how author, Paula Rawsthorne, pitched the idea to her agent and publisher).
The prologue is a great hook into this book but Zoe’s first-person teen voice also works well to keep the reader interested. I immediately liked Zoe (and not just because we share the same name) and particularly loved her willingness to stand out from the crowd. This starts with her interpretation of the college dress code (she is aware her ripped jeans, biker jacket, red DMs and lilac hair may be pushing what counts as “smart”) and continues in her refusal to be sucked in by social media and her initial resistance to Jack’s charms.
Zoe’s individuality also works well to reinforce the book’s underlying themes about free will and the right to privacy. These themes are cleverly woven throughout the text but they only become obvious in the final chapter, effectively ensuring that this remains predominately a gripping teen thriller.
If you’d like to read a book with a similar theme, you might want to consider The Disconnect by Keren David (which has the added advantage of being a Barrington Stoke dyslexia friendly read). Alternatively, why not try one of my all-time favourite teen thrillers: Riot by Sarah Mussi or See How They Lie by Sue Wallman.
Date: March 2019
Website: Paula Rawsthorne