The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Kidnapped

Good Girls Guide to Getting Kidnapped

Author: Yxta Maya Murray

Publication: 2010, Razor Bill

Pages: 272

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Michelle Peña – alternately known as Mish, Chelle, or Princess P – is the daughter of a powerful gangland family from L.A.  Her dad died in a gang war and her mother and brother are in jail.  Michelle is living in foster care with Frank – her third foster family – and trying with all her might to escape her old life.  She’s a champion runner, intelligent, driven, and has dreams of getting a scholarship to a fancy private school in LA known as Yale-Westview or Y-Dub.  But all those dreams are dashed when Michelle and her best friend, Kiki, are kidnapped by members of her brother’s old gang, the Snakes, who need her as leverage to get back the $100,000 her brother stole before he went to jail.

Pulled back into the old life, Michelle will have to decide who she really is – Mish, the fast runner and private school bound star, or Princess P, gangland royalty and bloody leader of The Snakes.  As she struggles to decide and survive, her mind is filled with the words and advice of her mother – Reina, the iron fisted queen of another bloody gang known as the ‘99s – even as her brother urges her to leave the gang life behind and her old love, Silver, forces her to question everything she’s ever wanted.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Murray tosses you straight into gangland LA and makes it leap off the page.  Everything from the language to the music to the constant undercurrent of violence feels authentic.  And Murray does an excellent job of neither glorifying not reviling gang life.  She presents it as it is, unvarnished, and shows both Michelle’s distaste for the gang world and her attraction to what it has to offer.  There’s no preaching here, just an honest portrayal of one young girl’s struggle to come to terms with her violent past.

Murray writes with the raw emotional power of a jackhammer.  She slams you inside Michelle’s head, turns on the engine, and lets the emotions rip.  But there’s nothing sappy here.  Michelle’s emotions are all wrapped up in a thick layer of fear, rage, lust, loneliness, and regret, and they rush across the page with the same speed and energy that she races around the track.

What I Liked the Least: While the language feels authentic, and really contributes to the atmosphere of the book, Murray makes no effort to explain the vocabulary.  You’re dropped in on your own, and you either get it or you don’t.  That works to some extent.  For example, after the second or third time Murray used it, I knew for sure that ‘heat’ meant ‘gun’.  But there were also times when the writing was so steeped in slang that I had no idea what was going on.  For example: “Oye, Pendejos, you all gonna take ten P from the herbal and split it ‘tween yas and Baby Samson’s club.   The Snakes is like our youth group, understand.  So if I hear one more queja outta either yas, I’ll get Bam-Bam to cutya.  Comprende?”  Honestly, I still have no clue what that paragraph is about.

At times, I got a little turned off by all the dropping of brand names.  Nothing was ever just a coat or a pair of shoes.  It was always a brand name, and not being all that into fashion most of it went right over my head.  For example, at one point Michelle and Kiki are searching through a vast collection of ‘trade’, or items that the Snake’s clients stole from their employers in order to pay for drugs.  Here’s a brief passage from that scene:

During the hours we ‘shopped’ the vault we pawed through boxes of golden L.A.M.B. perfume, smelling of white musk, and onyx black bowls of spicy Agent Provocateur body oils.  Spiderweb thin underwear from Stella McCartney peeked out at us from tissue-frothy boxes.  Silver Prada handbags with bone handles and chubby steel chains clanked in sleek silk bags.  We stumbled over Narcisco Rodriguez shoes…  And on it goes.

But in truth, these are all minor issues.  My real issue with the book is that the end was emotionally dissatisfying.  I won’t go into detail, because I don’t want to spoil the story, but the conclusion Michelle ultimately comes to about who she is and where she’s going left me feeling cheated.  It may have been realistic, but it didn’t do anything to tie the story up and left me with a whole lot of uncertainty about what Michelle was actually going to do and how she could possibly make it work.

How Good was the Action?  This book isn’t heavy on the action, but the action Murray does have is quite well done.  The scenes tend to be short, but short or not it’s easy to feel the adrenaline pounding through Michelle, the crunch of bone, and the slamming of her heart against her ribs.  Really, though, this book is far more about Michelle’s emotions and her relationships with her friend Kiki, her old boyfriend Silver, her brother Samson, and the other members of The Snakes.  And there are far more times when you feel pulse pounding emotion than pulse pounding action.  In fact, the action climax takes place about 80 pages before the end of the book, and from there on you’re dealing with the emotional climax.

How Engaging was the Story?   Murray does an excellent job of shoving us into Michelle’s head and carrying us through her roller coaster emotions as she tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs.   There’s definitely enough there to keep you reading.  But one of the reasons that the end felt unsatisfying was that the rest of the story was so emotionally engaging.  I wanted to know more about what was going to happen to Michelle than the story ultimately gave me.

Overall Assessment: This was a very cool book that did a great job of pulling me into the world of gangland LA, and it packs a whopper of an emotional punch along with a smattering of very well executed action scenes.  The only real downsides are that, (1) because the book is so real the language and sensibilities were sometimes hard to understand, and (2) the ending left too many questions about what Michelle was going to do and how she could possibly make it work.  Still, if you want to a glimpse into gang life and book filled with powerful emotions and great street-smart language, then this might be an excellent choice.

Profanity: Yes, and quite a bit of it.

Sex: Yes.  Murray doesn’t show that much actual sex, but there are a couple of scenes of Michelle acting very sexy and getting all hot and bothered about Silver.  There’s definitely some kissing.  And there are some very strong, and frankly creepy, intimations that Michelle and Silver had a sexual relationship starting from when she was eleven.  By the time she was 13 she was clearly also drinking and partying very hard.

Violence: Yes, and it can get fairly bloody.  One of the Snakes gets beaten to a bloody pulp, people get shot and stabbed.  And a couple of bikers get turned into road pulp.

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