Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
(I received an ARC of this book from First Reads.)
Don't Turn Around was an exciting read to say the least. Mystery, techno-thriller, government conspiracies, and secret medical experiments. Count me in!
Gagnon writes in dual perspective. One character, Noa, is a teenage girl who's been through the foster care system. She's antisocial, distrustful, and a genius hacker. A lot of reviews have been comparing her to Lisbeth Salander, and while there is a definite nod to Larsson's character, I think Noa stands as her own creation. She has a fancy backstory, but when it comes down to it, she's a pretty average girl reacting to the crazy crap life is throwing at her. She's very street-smart, which keeps the action going, but I never thought her actions and decisions were unbelievable. Easy protagonist to root for.
You've also got Peter, a rich kid Noa knows through her hacking career. His life gets tied up in Noa's when some mysterious men who claim to know his parents make a house call one night. I found myself more excited to read his half of the story--I appreciated the male perspective and he had more growth and insight as a character--but he didn't have as memorable of a personality. You know the type: rich kid gets thrown into a crazy situation and has to fend for himself. He's established as a brilliant hacker with a strong sense of moral justice, albeit from the safety of his own home. I would have liked to have seen more of that show.
The supporting characters were great. You've got your bad guys, of course, but I appreciated how many good characters there were. There were a lot of times that Noa or Peter was backed into a corner and there was some Average Joe that leant a helping hand. Sometime it made the plot resolution a little to easy, but I appreciated the optimism of it. When you've got a character with a backstory as dark as Noa's, it was a realistic change of pace for Gagnon to have some good things happen to her, too, once in a while.
All right. So, the plot. Like my little intro-blurb says, there's a lot to this book. Still, I don't think Gagnon was particularly adventurous. The action was heavily based in science and technology, but the techno and medical babble were kept to a minimum and the book was accessible to just about anyone living in the 21st century. There was good action, suspense, and a slowly unfolding mystery of what exactly happened to these kids, but the book doesn't stick its neck out there as much more than a standard teen sci-fi. Nothing moved me, made me cringe or slam down the book or jump out of my seat. It's a shame, because there were some dramatic reveal moments that had bigger potential. (view spoiler)[(Like when Noa found out she had a dead kid's thymus. That fact in itself is pretty standard nowadays with organ donations, and I wasn't surprised that the organization was murdering people. If Noa had stronger connections to the other kidnapped kids, maybe the particular one whose organ she got, I might have felt something, you know?) (hide spoiler)]
Still, worth the read. The topic was right down my alley and the action kept me engaged. Number one thing this book has going for it: there was no romance forced down our throats. There are two teenage leads of the opposite gender, and sure, they remember they have hormones once in a while, but for once in teen literature, their feelings take a backseat to the plot. They make a good team and Gagnon left a lot of potential for their journey in a sequel. I'll be picking it up when it comes out!
Recommendations: If you enjoyed the medical aspect, try Unwind by Neal Shusterman. If you enjoyed the hacking, try Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. And of course, if you're looking for a more adult read, there's Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
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