Blood Ties

Blood Ties

Author: Sophie McKenzie

Note: Sophie McKenzie is a very popular author of YA thrillers and action/adventure novels in Britain, but her books haven’t really made it across to America and can be difficult to find here.  She does use a fair number of British words in her writing, so there’s a brief glossary below to help clear up any possible confusion you may have.

Publication: Simon and Schuster, 2008

Pages: 448

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Rachel and Theo both have a lot of problems in their lives.  Theo’s mom doesn’t have much money, but his father – whom he knows nothing about – provides enough to send him to a good private school and hire a live-in bodyguard.  Problem is, Theo has no idea why he needs a bodyguard and his mother won’t tell him.  And he’s starting to get tired of having Roy follow him wherever he goes.

Rachel hates herself.  She thinks she’s fat and stupid, and her mother only makes it worse by constantly harping on her about her weight.  But worse than that, her mom can’s top comparing Rachel to her dead sister, who was gorgeous and good at everything she did.

Theo tracks Rachel down, believing she can help him find his father.  But all they find is trouble and a group of masked strangers who want to kill them.  Now the chase is on, as Rachel and Theo discover that something in their past – something they knew nothing about – has made them the targets of an extremist group who will stop at nothing to kill them.

Together, they have to find out who they are and why everyone wants them dead – before it’s too late.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: This book was hard to put down, in part because McKenzie writes with short chapters and puts a great hook at the end of each one.  So I constantly found myself thinking, “oh, this chapter is only six pages long.  I still have time to read that.” Only to find an equally powerfully hook at the end of that chapter.

Even though there were a lot of adults in this story – many of whom had pledged themselves to either killing or protecting Theo and Rachel – for the most part the two kids have to get themselves out of danger on their own.  So while McKenzie has set up certain adults as their protectors, she hasn’t made the situations so outrageously dangerous that Theo and Rachel can get out on their own.

This is all the better because there’s nothing special about Theo and Rachel.  By which I mean, they have no super powers or over the top skills.  They’re essentially regular kids with a secret past that has caught up to them and thrust them into danger.  So as readers, we get to see two ordinary teens struggling to survive under impossible circumstances.  And along the way, we get to see Rachel grow more confident and even learn to kick a little butt, while Theo develops a sense of empathy and learns to think about other people.

What I Liked the Least: I was disappointed by a number of small issues related to plot and character.  Let me warn you that there may be a few spoilers here.

In my opinion, McKenzie goes too far in hammering home Rachel’s negative self-image early in the book, reinforcing it over and over to the point where it got tedious.  I found myself wanting to shout at Rachel.

Second, there are two characters in the book who are assigned to protect Rachel and Theo.  The problem is that, while both of them are very good at what they do, they keep getting overcome by a scientist with a heart condition – a man who just doesn’t seem like he should be all that hard to deal with.  This leaves Rachel and Theo to save themselves – which is good, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Finally, Rachel and Theo seemed just a bit too dense when it came to their romantic feelings for one another.  After the 10th or 12th misunderstood conversation, wrong assumption, or failed opportunity I got fed up with the situation.  As with Rachel’s sense of self-loathing, it all felt a bit heavy-handed

How Good was the Action?  The action scenes are well done and full of energy.  McKenzie does a great job creating tension in her scenes and drawing her readers into the action.  There are moments when it almost feels claustrophobic, as if you’re trapped in a locked room right alongside Rachel and Theo, listening to a killer rattling the door handle.  It’s very cool and makes the book extremely hard to put down, especially when McKenzie starts weaving Rachel and Theo’s emotions into the action – their fear and desperation, their sense that the walls are closing in.

The only problem was that too many of the action scenes consisted of chases, with Rachel and Theo running for their lives as enemies close in.  Personally, I would have liked one or two scenes in which the two of them ran out of places to hide and were forced to fight back.  But that’s a purely personal preference, and in many ways chases work better for the kind of emotionally charged scenes that McKenzie writes – with blood pumping through your veins as your legs turn to lead and you hear the footsteps of your killer drawing steadily closer.

How Engaging was the Story?   McKenzie has an interesting style here, alternating first person point of view chapters told from both Rachel and Theo’s perspectives.  So one chapter will be told in the first person as Rachel and the next will be told in first person as Theo.   This let me get into both of their heads in a very intimate way.

That could have been a problem if McKenzie had done a better job developing one of the characters than the other, but she handled it very evenly, giving both characters equal time and attention, and the constant shift in perspective helped keep the story chugging along.

One of the most exciting thing McKenzie did with the shifting perspectives was that she’d occasionally start a new chapter in the middle of a scene, so that we could see the action moving forward through two distinct points of view.  In or two cases she even replayed a scene, showing us first what happened from Rachel’s perspective and then shifting to redo the scene from Theo’s perspective.  It worked incredibly well.

Overall Assessment: This a cool novel with a lot of emotional charge, and McKenzie does a fantastic job switching back and forth between two different 1st person perspectives.  That alone makes it worth reading.  There were some places where I thought she got a little heavy handed with her writing, but I can forgive that.  McKenzie is a great writer, and it’s a shame her books are so hard to come across in this country.  If you happen to find a copy of Blood Ties, I’d definitely recommend giving it a chance.

Profanity: Very little

Sex: None.  There is a small scene in which a girl’s dress gets pulled down, but there are no details or mention of any bodily parts.

Violence: Some.  There is blood and people do get killed – and more than a few get knocked around – but it was pretty modest.

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