Author: Sarah Mussi

Publication: 2013, Holder Children’s Books

Pages: 303

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

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

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: A normal day at school turns violent when gunmen take over. Caught up in the siege, Leah Jackson must fight to survive. But even as she struggles to save her own life, she’s faced with the question of how far she’ll go to save her friends and all those she loves. Will she do whatever it takes?

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Leah’s fear, hope, and guilt literally pour off the page, throwing her character into a brilliant light and filling every choice she makes with the weight of life and death consequences. Every time someone dies, every time another obstacle smashes her plans to dust, it’s like an emotional punch to the gut. She’s a normal, everyday girl – not an action hero – who finds herself faced with impossible odds and choices no one should ever have to make, but she keeps going, soldiering on regardless of how bad things get. Leah’s heroic struggle to save the lives of those around her lies at the heart of this story and gives it a raw emotional power that ultimately overcomes many of the books other shortcomings.

What I Liked the Least: There simply wasn’t enough background. Mussi jumps straight into the siege with a flurry of violence, and her later attempts to create background and introduce the other characters fall flat. I didn’t come to know anyone but Leah. Everyone else felt like they were only there to give Leah people to save, and I didn’t care what happened to them.

The same was true of the setting. Mussi has created a fictional Britain where some kind of riots led to a breakdown in the old social welfare system, a tough on crime government, and a new set of schools for the poor that are equipped with high tech security system that can place them in total lockdown – no one in and no one out. But all this is told through Leah’s jerky, panicked internal thoughts and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I couldn’t understand the conspiracy behind the siege because I didn’t know enough about the government and the wider society Leah lives in. I and couldn’t make heads or tails of a security system that would lock a school down so it couldn’t even be opened from the outside. Who in their right mind would design something like that, and who would set it up so that it could be triggered by a group of gunmen INSIDE the school?

How Good was the Action? Even though this is a story about a bloody siege there’s no real fighting. But many of the chases and near escapes are seriously hair-raising. That has less to do with the action itself than with the raw emotional power that Leah brings to every scene, whether she’s racing down the corridor, hiding in the ceiling tiles, or making a desperate bid for escape as bullets chew up the floor behind her. It’s simply impossible not to get caught up in her tooth-and-nail fight for survival.

How Engaging was the Story? As I’ve made clear, I didn’t care much about any of the supporting characters. So Leah’s fight to save them, and her anguish over their fate, never really pulled me in. And the conspiracy she uncovers was utterly ridiculous. But despite all that, her personal struggle – for both her survival and her soul – was impossible to ignore and had me hooked almost from the first page.

Overall Assessment: The book feels somewhat unbalanced, able to slam me into an emotional wall every time something happens to the main character while leaving me largely unaffected by the violent fate of her friends. Powerful, but nowhere near the same level as her previous book, The Door of No Return.

Profanity: Nothing worse than ‘freaking’.

Sex: None

Violence: Yes. When someone get shot here the blood flows. And the callous way in which it generally happens makes the violence feel even more visceral. It’s all part of the story, as opposed to violence for the sake of violence, but Mussi does nothing to sugarcoat it or pretend that it’s any less horrifying than it really is.

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