Don’t Turn Around

Don't Turn Around

Author: Michelle Gagnon

Publication: 2012 Harper Collins

Pages: 320

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Noa wakes up strapped to a hospital bed in a warehouse.  Through guts and ingenuity she manages to escape, but “They” won’t give up.  Now Noa, a foster kid who’s learned to game the system and live on her own, is in desperate need of an ally.  She finds it in Peter, a rich hacker who stumbled across a dangerous secret and is in way over his head.  Together, the two of them are on the run and fighting to survive.

Warning: This sounded like a stand-alone book, but it’s not.  It doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, but there’s a lot of unfinished business.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Noa has been described as a teenage Lisbeth Salander, and the comparison works.  She’s a genius hacker, tough as nails, and unwilling to let anyone get close after a lifetime of betrayals.  But she’s still a kid, and she’s more lonely and scared than she’s ready to admit.  It was very cool watching how she used computers to trick the system, find work, and build a life for herself.  But that also made it all the more intense as the life she’d built collapsed around her.

Noa’s relationship with Peter is fraught with delicious tension as she instinctively tries to push him away, while struggling to come to terms with an attraction that she can neither explain nor understand.  And it was equally cool to see Peter, who’s used to getting girls through his easy charm, suddenly run into a brick wall with Noa – to see him reach the point where he’s ready to sacrifice everything for a girl he’s not even sure he likes.

Last but not least, I’m a tech newbie.  Creating this website stretched my abilities to the max, and some of the jargon thrown around in this book – like bricking and phlashing – went right over my head.  But I still enjoyed going along for the ride as Peter and Noa hack their way through firewalls, steal data, and work to cover their tracks.  It was hacktivism on a grand scale, and written in a way that should make it fun for both the experienced computer jockey and newbies like myself.

What I Liked the Least: This was a fast-paced read.  But during the first half of the book there were way too many extended flashbacks to try and fill in the backstory.  Some of them went on for pages.  And while the background they supplied was pertinent, they kept jerking the story to a halt.  I would have preferred it if Gagnon had replaced some or all of those flashbacks with a few quick paragraphs of exposition to fill in the blanks without slowing things down.

How Good was the Action? Gagnon writes a mean chase scene.  Noa’s initial escape from the hospital / warehouse will take your breath away.  She’s aggressive, smart, and fast – able to think on her feet in situations where most of us would freeze up.  And with the people who cut her open still on her tail, there are more than enough chases and near escapes to go around.  Each one feels like pure genius, and they’re intense enough to get your blood pumping as if you were running right alongside her.  Great stuff.

How Engaging was the Story? Between Noa and Peter’s prickly relationship, the unfolding mystery of why she was taken, and the relentless pace of the pursuit, this is one book that you won’t want to put down.  Gagnon does a masterful job of ending each chapter and scene on a hook that drives you forward until you realize you’ve been reading for way too long.    

Overall Assessment: A character-driven thriller that provides the perfect combination of action, mystery, hacktivism, and prickly maybe-romance.  It’ll suck you in and keep you reading until the last page.

Profanity: Little to none

Sex: None.  But there are plenty of references to rape, pornography, and making out.

Violence: Not a lot.  People get beaten up, threatened, a couple even die.  But there’s little in the way of immediate violence.  However, there are plenty of references to kids being killed in surgical experiments.  And at one point Noa and Peter find themselves looking at the dismembered corpse of a kid.  It’s not bloody; it’s just the terrifying reality of what happened.

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