While I appreciate the pinball episode of the Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark?, I don’t like going to the mall. Too many people, not enough windows,* and regardless of any seeming spaciousness, I always feel claustrophobic. Books like Dayna Lorentz’s No Safety in Numbers make me feel even more satisfied with my mall-free lifestyle.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on the paranormal thriller 'Dreamless.'
When a suspicious-looking device is found clipped to a ventilation shaft, the West Nyack Mall is locked down within an hour. It being a Saturday afternoon, suddenly, thousands of people are trapped there for an undetermined amount of time. Our focus is on these four teenagers:
Marco: He’s the only one of the four who actually has a job. On his way into work, a couple of jocks destroy his bike while yelling “taco” at him—his family is actually from Costa Rica—so he’s understandably crabby, but his chapters are also the most consistently funny: “Marco was not good with people. Especially his peers. His peers tended to be assholes.”
Lexi: Recently (and unhappily) enrolled in private school, somewhat of a hacker, and the 14-year-old daughter of a local senator. Although her father’s been trying to bring them back together, Lexi’s relationship with her politics-first mother has become ever-more fractious since the election. Now, all three of them are stuck in the mall. And the senator’s in charge, whether Lexi likes it or not.
Ryan: The newest, youngest member of the local football team, Ryan is desperate to fit in with the rest of the team, but is also uncomfortable with their behavior.
Shay: New to the area, Shaila Dixit likes poetry and drama, neither of which has particularly prepared her for the sudden responsibility of caring for her 10-year-old sister and their diabetic grandmother.
Bonus!: the racist, sexist, violent football players Mike and Drew.** As awful as they are, by the end—due to countless escape attempts and their No Man Left Behind philosophy—at moments, I almost liked them...until they’d do something new and freshly assholic.
Enjoying No Safety in Numbers will require some suspension of disbelief and for readers to avoid thinking too hard about details. You’d think, for instance, that a mall large enough to house a rock-climbing gym and an ice rink would, A) have some showers somewhere, if not an actual gym, and B) have at least a bare-bones custodial staff on hand during the day. But, no. Not this one.
While I don’t deal well with real-life enclosed spaces, I do love stories about them: Michael Northrop’s Trapped, for instance, or The Mist, by Stephen King.*** So while the book veers more Generic Action Movie (lots of conflict, characters defined by a few major traits, not much depth or development) than Critic-Pleasing, Soon-to-Be-Award winner (for example), I enjoyed it unreservedly. The tension ramps up nicely as people start turning on each other, and even more so as characters begin to realize just how Little Brother-creepy their situation is, what with the government controlling the flow of information in—and out—of the mall. I’m curious to see where the series goes.
Highly recommended to fans of James Dashner’s Maze Runner series.
*Skylights don’t count. How many times have you seen someone get thrown through a big skylight in a movie? Loads. Movies usually focus on the person doing the falling, but all of that glass is bound to hit some innocent bystander. And by “innocent bystander,” I mean “me.”
**Drew wins the award for most revolting, as he’s given to air-humping (Like air guitar, but classier!) and hocking loogies on the floor.
***Which Kirkus, sadly, did not appreciate. My 14-year-old self strongly disagrees.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.