Remember when Veronica Mars planted a bugged stapler in her school counselor’s office and then spent the rest of the episode listening in on all of the supposedly private sessions of her various suspects? That’s pretty much Margaux Froley’s Escape Theory in a nutshell, except that in Froley’s book, 16-year-old Devon Mackintosh is actually sitting in the counselor’s chair.
The book opens with the obituary of one Jason “Hutch” Hutchins, an (apparently) universally beloved young man who died of an (apparently) deliberate drug overdose.
The problem is, anyone who knew Hutch knows that both suicide and suicide-by-OxyContin are completely, totally, out of character. Like, impossibly so. Despite that, no one seems particularly interested in uncovering the truth—the school just wants the publicity to go away, and his fellow students want to move past their grief—no one except the aforementioned Devon Mackintosh, a classmate who (apparently) didn’t even really know him.
Except she did: While they only spent one night together early on in their freshman year, that connection was so strong, so true and so real that it has stayed with her since then. She can’t let him go until she knows what really happened, and if that means using her position as a peer counselor and bending—okay, breaking—a few ethical rules to find out the truth, she’s willing to do so.
Is it entirely plausible? Er, no: It’s unlikely that a prestigious institution like the Keaton School would entrust the psychological well-being of its deep-pocketed darlings to an untested high school junior immediately after a traumatic event. It’s just as unlikely that a death that suspicious wouldn’t be investigated at all. And as I’ve noted before, it’s hard to believe that nearly every single main character (in this case: Devon, Matt, Cleo, Presley, Isla and Bohdi) in any book would be capable of the One Eyebrow Trick.
Did Devon win me over? Yes and no. Her emotions—and those of her counselees—ring true, but she’s one of those heroines* who’s described one way (in this case, as observant), while her actions don’t reflect that at ALL. I give her huge points for tenacity and for some moments of impressive quick thinking, but she misses clues right and left. (We’re not talking subtle clues, either. We’re talking Blinking Neon Sign clues.)
But, you know? Whenever the analytical part of my brain complained, the rest of me shushed it: because Escape Theory is entirely entertaining. Sure, Devon won’t be competing in the Detection Olympics any time soon, but the mystery is still engrossing, and even better, the emotional core of the book—her new friendships, but especially her relationship with Hutch—is ultimately quite affecting. As far as I’m concerned, the Soho Teen imprint is two-for-two.
Just for kicks, pair this one with Elizabeth LaBan’s The Tragedy Paper (which I enjoyed much more than the Kirkus reviewer did). They’re being marketed to slightly different audiences—The Tragedy Paper as literary fiction and Escape Theory as straight-up mystery—but despite the differences in tone and voice, both deal with a mysterious tragedy at boarding school, which would make for some fun comparisons.
*See also: Dark Companion’s Jane Williams, who is described again and again as having street-smarts, yet exhibits no smarts of any kind, street or otherwise.