Author: John Sanford and Michele Cook

Publication: 2014, Knopf Books

Pages: 416

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Shay Remby arrives in LA with $58 and a homemade knife.  She’s there to find her brother Odin, a brilliant hacker who fell in with a group of hardcore animal rights activists and helped plan a raid on a high-tech lab.  But they found more than they bargained for at the lab – evidence of horrendous experiments – and Odin escaped with a set of incriminating flash drives and a post-surgical dog.  Now the company behind that research wants Odin back at all costs, and they’ve deployed a skilled and very dangerous team of security professionals to bring him in.  The only problem is, they know nothing about Shay, and they have no clue just how tough and ruthless she can be when it comes to fighting for her brother.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Shay doesn’t end up operating alone, and the cast of characters she falls in with is pretty colorful.  I particularly liked Twist, an eccentric artist who runs the Twist Hotel for street kids and uses his funds to carry out provocative media actions – like draping a five story tall poster of a nude district attorney with a penchant for cracking down on illegals from the top of a downtown building.  His methods and motivations are endlessly interesting, and living at a hotel for runaways provides Shay with a ready source of tough and independent friends.

Sanford and Cook also do an excellent job of peppering the story with provocative moral issues.  After all, this is a book about a research company gone too far – and as we’re forced to try and weigh some of the very positive things they’ve done (and are still trying to do) against their ethically questionable methods, it takes what could have been just a straightforward thriller and gives it an extra edge.

What I Liked the Least: While Twist makes for a very colorful character, I didn’t like how prominent a role he played in helping Shay find her brother.  This is a YA novel, and giving adults a central part in helping the main character overcome her problem just doesn’t work.  Knowing he was there made the whole thing that much less suspenseful, since it gave Shay a very powerful ace in the hole to fall back on.

How Good was the Action? It’s okay, but no more than that.  The action scenes are generally brief.  There’s a decent battle at the Twist Hotel – pure chaos, with trained security professionals fighting it out with armed teens and a vicious dog.  But other than that, the fights and chases are all too brief.  And, most important, Shay is almost never the one doing the fighting.  She’s simply observing the action as an interested outsider, which really cut down on both my emotional involvement and the level of intensity.

How Engaging was the Story?  Shay is an interesting character and Sanford/Cook do a good job of getting inside her head. Combine that with the colorful cast she hooks up with at the Twist Hotel, the media actions they pull, the moral questions surrounding the lab research, and the occasional chapters that take us inside the heads of the security experts at the lab, the book is one that can definitely hold your attention.

Overall Assessment:  An interesting read, peppered with cool characters duking it out with a ruthless and powerful corporation.  The primary shortcoming was the over-involvement of adults in helping to bring the story to a climax.  Shay and her friends are almost never truly on their own here, and that made the action far less suspenseful than it might otherwise have been.

Profanity: Minimal.

Sex: None.

Violence: Some.  Quite a few people get beaten up, a couple get shot, one man gets tazed.  But the scenes are far from graphic and there’s very little in the way of blood.

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