Predators become prey in this private school novel.
Kate O’Brien is the new scholarship student at Waverly Academy in New York City, but she’s also a seasoned con artist armed with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and she intends to do anything and use anyone in order to get away from her past and into Yale. Kate targets Olivia Sumner in order to get out of poverty and in with the popular girls, but she finds her cold calculations tempered by friendship. Kate’s first-person narration proudly details her manipulative methods (with flashbacks to a traumatic childhood that offers motive), while the third-person voice in Olivia’s chapters goes from detached to disjointed as she pops Ativan like Altoids but slowly spills her secrets. Kate and Olivia, both white, think they can swim with the sharks, yet both are outclassed when a man complicates matters, and only Kate can see the sociopath beneath the suave charm. Shallowly drawn schoolmates are also saddled with enough psychological issues to fill Kate’s beloved DSM but otherwise fulfill rich-girl, private school stereotypes and provide background color. Toten’s use of sexual predation and parental abuse as plot devices is problematic, but she also delivers a social-climbing satire with a ridiculous resolution, making for a reading experience that feels simultaneously riveting and like rubbernecking.
A tense teen thriller that is half mind-game, half misery lit—call it 50 Shades of Grey Area. (Thriller. 14-18)