Paranormal elements uneasily mix with Mafia entanglements in this debut.
Chicago teen boxer Sara Jane has grown up cozily protected by her warm Italian family, presided over by Grandpa Enzo "the Biscotto." (The "Men Who Mumbled" who visit the family bakery sometimes call him "Enzo the Boss.") When her grandparents die, tension flares between her father and his younger brother. On her 16th birthday, she returns home from a school dance to find her house trashed and her family vanished. In between violent encounters with a terrifying man in a ski mask, she works feverishly to find her family, discovering in the process a colossal secret (that will not surprise readers) and a family trait passed down from Sicilian ancestors that mystically intimidates foes. Goeglein’s book has a lot going for it—Sara Jane's school friendships, her warm relationship with her family, cool Mob stuff, boxing action, some humor—but the parts don't hang together gracefully. Sara Jane narrates from an irritating had-I-but-known perspective for too much of the book, then continues narrating in the past tense, leaving readers unsure exactly "when" she is. Exposition is fed to readers through a variety of contrivances, some thoroughly unbelievable. And the blue-eyed, "cold fury" glare feels tacked-on rather than necessary to the plot.
With another draft or two, this could have been a terrific thriller; here's hoping the sequel gets a little bit more time to develop. (Thriller. 12 & up)