Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Don't Turn Around

Don't Turn Around 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)

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!

Rating: 3.5

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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