In Etchison’s novel, a 17-year-old girl faces the ultimate test of survival when her nation goes to war.
Samantha “Sam” Riggleman seems to have a bright future ahead of her. A junior in high school, she’s excited to graduate soon, and she’s thrilled that Brandon, the boy she has long admired, finally asked her out. Brandon is finishing high school and has plans to go to college, but his and Sam’s dreams are dashed when the president of their fictional country declares war. Young men must enlist to help the war effort (the narrative uses clichés like: “Our only hope is our children”); even though Brandon hates the violence, he doesn’t want to be perceived as a coward, so he decides to defend his country. Sam fears for Brandon’s life, especially since a former classmate was killed after he joined the service. Her understandable worries are only intensified when an enemy attack forces her to flee with Brandon’s family instead of her own. Desperately trying to escape the bombing, Sam and her friend Meg run to safety, but Brandon and his parents are killed. Sam witnesses the devastation of war and loss firsthand, but she must leave the bodies behind and continue on if she hopes to have any chance of surviving. At times, the dialogue is unrealistic for a 17-year-old girl. Circumstances cause her to grow up quickly, but the way she talks is improbably stiff, and the prose often comes across as an adult narrator declaring that war is unnecessary, rather than a teenager showing the reader why war is not the answer. Sam is surrounded by fatalities and destruction as she walks miles in search of her family and safety. As she tries to overcome the horrors of war, the smells of death and almost being raped by men from the enemy’s army, she encounters different survivors along the way, including three young children whose parents were killed, whom she takes under her wing. Her maternal instinct toward the children and her commitment to them are admirable, albeit a bit over-the-top for someone of her age. Sam’s fear and desperation are convincing, though the intense subject matter might be overwhelming for younger adolescents. Her journey reaches an unsettling, abrupt conclusion.
The repetitive anti-war sentiments become tiresome, but the harsh realities of battle from a young citizen’s perspective will be eye-opening, especially for young-adult readers.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.