In Daly’s debut YA novel, a teenage girl engages in a battle of wills with a handsome cadet who’s trying to recruit her younger brother into an enigmatic academy.
Since losing her mother to cancer a couple of years ago, New Mexico high schooler Katie Connelly has taken care of her younger siblings, Andrew and Mikey. Their largely indifferent father, who used to be in the military, is more interested in assigning his kids chores than learning about their lives. So it’s shocking when he decides to send 8-year-old Andrew, who’s academically and athletically gifted, to the International Elite Academy in California. Katie is wary of this plan, as not much is known about the mysterious Academy. In addition, Andrew’s “mentor,” Cadet Pete Davenport, recently acted like an insolent jerk at the diner where Katie waitresses. She doesn’t trust him and sees him as a con artist using deceit to finalize Andrew’s recruitment. But it turns out that Pete can also be undeniably charming, and Katie soon fears that she’s “falling for the enemy.” She also thinks that her skepticism may be mere paranoia—a condition that some people attributed to her mother, who didn’t want her kids attending public school. In any case, Katie vows to learn more about Pete, the Academy, and its mission. There are indeed mysteries surrounding the Academy, but Daly’s story pays closer attention to the potential romance between Katie and Pete. There are numerous, prolonged scenes with the two after their initial encounter in the diner. However, these moments also deftly showcase how Katie intuitively questions nearly everything, such as the fact the Pete knows particular details about her. Moreover, Daly crafts superb dialogue in a steady but not excessive Southern dialect, with characters dropping “dadgum” and “y’all” into conversations. The supporting players also shine, from Katie’s self-centered frenemy, Ashley-Leigh Montgomery, to 4-year-old Mikey, whose childish speech is endearing: “I get to wide up fwunt…and without a boostuh!” The ending, while predictable, perfectly sets up a planned sequel.
A romance with a hint of mystery, a well-developed protagonist, and excellent dialogue.