Nobody Knows But You by Anica Mrose Rissi
Quill Tree Books, September 2020
Kayla meets Lainie at the start of Camp Cavanick’s 8 week session. She had been reluctant to go, preferring to stay at home and sleep and read, but the two 16 years old bond instantly. Kayla has never been friends with anyone like Lainie before: a charming, funny rulebreaker and Kayla feels she transforms once she’s Lainie’s best friend.
They are an inseparable club of two and the author expertly creates that feeling you get when you meet a soulmate – someone you know you’ll be friends with forever. But then, inevitably, a boy happens. “Nerd hot” Jackson Winters and Lainie are instantly attracted to each other and for the remainder of camp have a passionate on-again off-again relationship. Jackson already has a girlfriend at home but strings Lainie along, dumping her when he feels guilty and then reeling her back in. I think most of us have been that third wheel at some time and can empathize with Kayla: why did a boy have to come along and get between them? And why can’t Lainie see he’s no good for her?
We know right from the start that the camp ends in murder. Kayla tantalizingly takes us through that summer, writing letters to Lainie that she knows she’ll never send. These are interspersed with news reports and a Greek chorus of campers and counselors.
Without any spoilers, I think the author does a terrific job of slowly peeling back what happened at Camp Cavanick and exposes the psyches of the three central characters. While not the most original thriller I’ve read, I was hooked right from start to finish. Recommended for fans of Lauren Oliver’s realistic novels.
Thanks to Quill Tree Books and Edelweiss for the digital review copy.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins revisits Panem in this very successful prequel set 64 years before The Hunger Games. Coriolanus Snow is a senior at the prestigious Academy, but is only there because of his family’s name – they are dirt poor in reality though do their very best to keep up appearances. The Hunger Games were set up 10 years ago at the conclusion of the Capitol’s victory over the rebellious Districts and they are very different in style, if not in purpose, to the ones that Katniss Everdeen participates in: the Tributes (a boy and girl from each District) are just slung into an arena with some weapons. But for the 10th anniversary, it has been decided to give each Tribute a mentor from the students at the Academy and Coriolanus feels the slight of being awarded the girl from District 12, particularly as the mentors are to be rewarded for the performance of their Tributes. But it turns out that Lucy Gray Baird is special and may well be able to beat the odds.
As well as the basic Hunger Games plot, there is also some clues about how the Games developed into the spectacle that we know from the original trilogy. And, of course, we see the beginning of the evolution of Coriolanus Snow from proud and conflicted teen into what he later becomes.
I enjoyed this book as much as The Hunger Games as it goes back to the personal and individual (while there is a plethora of characters with 24 Tributes and 24 mentors, most are little more than a name), though it does lack the visceral shock I felt when I first read a book in which children kill other children. Of course, Coriolanus is a much more ambivalent character than Katniss, but the author captures his charisma and opportunistic intelligence while keeping him mostly sympathetic.
Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards
Sourcebooks Fire, October 2020
High school senior Mira is on her way home for the holidays but her connecting flight is cancelled because of snow, so she decides to get into a rental car with a woman she met on her flight and three other strangers. As they head out, the weather is clear but soon a blizzard comes in and the roads get increasingly dangerous. To up the tension, letters to Mira from an anonymous stalker are threaded into the narrative. Once things start going missing – a wallet, Mira’s phone, a spare phone battery – and the charging points in the car are sabotaged, it becomes clear that someone is trying to isolate them. Add to that the stranger who keeps turning up at the service stations they stop at, and the suspense is tightened even further.
The simple set up and ratcheting tension grabbed me pretty much right from the start. I got my nose stuck in and was in “just one more chapter” mode for most of the way through. There are quite a lot of “why didn’t she…” moments, and some of the red herrings just don’t make a lot of sense in retrospect, but, honestly, when I’m gobbling down a book that quickly, that’s fine.
Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for the digital review copy.